This book has been selected as a 2018 Nautilus Award Winner.
Title: Brave: Young Women’s Global Revolution, Vol. 1
Author: Gayle Kimball, PhD
Publisher: Equality Press, AK Press
Category: WOMEN 
We are deeply glad to welcome you to the honored and respected group of Nautilus Book Award Winners. You can be justly proud of your book’s selection as an Award Winner in the 2018 Nautilus season, which brought a marvelous number of entries and a magnificent diversity of high-quality book
Table of Contents
Volume 1 Themes
Chapter 1 The Future is Female
Young Women’s Aspirations, What Motivates a Young Activist? Young Women Leaders, Why so Brave? Media Influence on Girls, Anti-Neoliberal Inequality, Young Women’s Activist Tactics, United Nations and Governments Stimulate Equality, Is the Future Female? Young Men’s Issues and Viewpoints
Chapter 2 Global Desire for Equality
Equality is Desired Globally, Females More Egalitarian, Claims that Women Leaders are More Peaceful, Women Politicians Make a Difference, Maternal Qualities Idealized as Compassionate Leadership, Women are Better Leaders? Do Women Organize Differently than Men? Existing Models of Feminist Societies, Opposition to Prejudice, How to Increase Women’s Influence on Government
Chapter 3 Global Status of Young Women
Inequality, Rural vs. Urban Sex Roles, Feminization of Poverty, Education is the Key, Health Issues, Violence Against Women
Chapter 4 Consumerism Targets “Girl Power”
Consumer Youth Religion?; Teen Identity Through Consumption; Social Unrest from Rising Expectations; How Youth Are Manipulated by Multinational Corporations; Negative Consequences of Consumerism; Youth Views about Materialism and Getting Rich; Traditional and Modern Beliefs: Moving Towards the Middle
Chapter 5 Global Media Both Helps and Inhibits Girls
Global Media is Pervasive and Changes Attitudes, Digital Divide, Teachers Compare their Generation With Their Students,
Indian Media, Mobile Phones and Social Media, The Internet Creates Global Youth Culture, Global Media Sells Consumerism, Media Addiction Creates Dumb Zombies, Media Exposure Makes Youth Opinionated and Brave, Hollywood Films Provide Global Activist Symbols, Media Facilitates Activism, Campaigns Against Sexualization of Girls, Covering Women’s News
Volume 2 Regions
Chapter 1 Feminist Waves in the West
Feminist Wave History, Second Wave Feminists, Second Wave Created Women’s Studies, Inequality Persists, Generation Gap, Third Wave Response, Rejection of Feminism? Fourth Wave, Women of Color, US Recent Feminist Actions
Chapter 2 Women and Development
Girls and Women’s Importance in Development, Transnational Feminism Opposes Neoliberalism, Post-Colonial Feminists and Development, Feminist Development Organizations
Chapter 3 Latin American Horizontalism
Latin American Young Women’s Issues, Poverty, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil
Chapter 4 The African Way
African Values, Poverty and Development, Health Issues, Education, Women’s Movements, Young Women Feminists
Chapter 5 Brave Women in Muslim Countries
The Middle East Background, The Most Gender Equal Arab Nations,
Women and Islam, Feminist Activists, Women’s Role in Recent Uprisings
Iran, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Morocco, Kurdish Rojava in Northern Syria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia
Chapter 6 Egypt’s 18-Day Revolution
Traditional Male Dominance; Education; A Pioneering Feminist: Dr. Nawal El Saadawi’s Egyptian Union for Women; Precursors to Women Revolutionaries of 2011; Young Women in the 2011 Revolution; After the Revolution; Sexual Harassment is Common; Recent Feminism
Chapter 7 Russia Turns to Glamour
Traditional Gender Roles, Consumerism and Glamour, Putin Teaches Youth to be Nationalistic, Attitudes Towards Feminism, Female Rebels Against Putin
Chapter 8 China Fears Feminists
Maoist Marxism, Traditional Beliefs, China’s Gender Issues, Rural vs. Urban Youth Issues, Youth Issues in an Era of Change from Maoism to Capitalism, Current Chinese Issues, Recent Feminism
Chapter 9 India’s Grassroots Feminism
Youth Issues, The Gap Between Urban and Rural, Violence Against Girls and Women, The Impact of Religion on Gender Roles, Changing Sex Roles, Youth Activism in Politics, Feminism
Other Books by the Author
50/50 Marriage (Beacon Press)
50/50 Parenting (Lexington Books)
Ed. Women’s Culture (Scarecrow Press)
Ed. Women’s Culture Revisited. (Scarecrow Press)
The Religious Ideas of Harriet Beecher Stowe (Edwin Mellen Press)
Essential Energy Tools book and 3 videos. (Equality Press)
21st Century Families: Blueprints for Family-Friendly Workplaces,
Schools and Governments. (Equality Press)
The Teen Trip: The Complete Resource Guide (Equality Press)
Ed. Everything You Need to Know to Succeed After College (Equality
How to Survive Your Parents’ Divorce (Equality Press)
Ed., Quick Healthy Recipes: Literacy Fundraiser (Equality Press)
Your Questions About Love and Family (Equality Press)
Your Questions About Mental and Physical Health (Equality Press)
Your Mindful Guide to Academic Success: Beat Burnout (Equality Press)
Ageism in Youth Studies: A Maligned Generation (Cambridge Scholars Publishing)
Global Youth Values Transforming Our Future (Cambridge Scholars Press)
Goals and Tactics for Changemakers (Equality Press)
Brave: Young Women’s Global Revolution (Equality Press)
Democracy Uprisings Led by Global Youth
A shorter version of this chapter is published in Women’s Journey to Empowerment in the 21st Century, edited by Zaleski, Enrile, Wang, and Weiss. Oxford University Press, 2019.
Silencing Women’s Voices in Egypt and Globally
Women bloggers formed a website in 2006 called “We Are All Laila” because, “Our goal is to have a voice which expresses our suffering as we are fed up of having others speak on our behalf.”
In my school I’m not allowed to voice my thoughts; I get in trouble because of it. I refuse to let my voice not be heard. I’m a straight A student, so teachers are more or less tolerant. Yara, a high school student in Geza
Sarrah Abdel Rahman kept her 20,000 Twitter followers and the viewers of her YouTube video series (Walla Eih) informed about events in Tahrir Square during the 2011 revolution, commenting, “We have finally got our voices back.” (However, this would be short lived as repression soon set in.)
Silence is unacceptable: my anger will be heard. Women’s slogan during the 2011 revolution
It’s about breaking the silence, about sharing and connection people.
Sally Zohney, a member of a women’s storytelling group called BuSSy told by the el-Sisi government to censor content or stop performing.
This is the century of women and of feminism; we’ve raised our voices and we won’t stop. No more violence, discrimination, or pay gap! Egyptian feminists would agree with Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau
Note to readers:
You may notice that, unlike other chapters, this one uses the first person to report on my field research in Egypt and the experiences of Egyptians I interviewed in 2011 and afterwards via email or Skype. Unlike secondary research, primary research seems to necessitate the use of first person because I’m reporting on my own observations. Also, feminist scholarship values personal participation in events to understand women’s point of view as difference from the generic “man.” It also challenges the academic pretense of objectivity, which probably isn’t humanly possible. Think of the male primatologists who unconsciously focused on the dominance struggles of males.
International Women’s Day on March 8 has been observed globally since the early 1900s, leading a reasonable person to think that inequality caused by sexism would no longer be pertinent. Yet a UN fact-finding mission in the US in 2015 reported a shocking gap between rhetoric and the facts of “women’s missing rights” in the US. They concluded, “In global context, US women do not take their rightful place as citizens.” The report specifically pointed to the increasing barriers to abortion and other reproductive health care, low numbers of women legislators (the US ranks number 72 globally), a 21 percent gender wage gap, and cuts to social safety net programs. Many of President Donald Trump cabinet appointees voted against the Violence Against Women Act and the Fair Pay Act, as well as being anti-choice and climate change deniers. Trump’s cabinet is the most dominated by white males since President Reagan, in an era when the Canadian and French cabinets are half female (albeit not in the power positions).
Women held less than one-quarter of global parliamentary seats in 2017 (15 percent in Egypt) and only 17 countries had elected female leaders in 2016, according to UN Women (these leaders are shown in a slide show). Nine national legislative bodies lack any women at all and 32 countries don’t have constitutional guarantees for gender equality, including the United States—which has not passed the Equal Rights Amendment proposed in 1923. At the current rate of progress, it will take 40 years to reach gender parity in the world’s national legislatures. Yet the Inter-Parliamentary Union reports that women’s presence in parliaments and ministerial positions significantly increases investments in social welfare and legal protection, as well as honesty in government and business. Businesses also are more productive when they include women in leadership to provide diverse insights about how to succeed. When women do paid work, poverty decreases and the GDP increases. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization report “Women—Key to Food Security” found that if women farmers had access to the same resources as men, the number of hungry people would be reduced by 150 million.
The lack of equal representation of women in governments is not due to lack of female ambition or ability, but “arises from men choosing men,” explains Margot Wallström, former chair of the Council of Women World Leaders. She suggests that women need to support each other and publicize gender discrimination by using “master suppression techniques.” She explains, “I have lost count of how many times I have experienced or witnessed men ridicule or ignore women at meetings or in public, and exclude them for the decision-making process.” Wallström says we need laws to stop discrimination—such as quotas for female candidates–and to enable a better work-life balance with parental leave, childcare, and other family programs as exemplified by Scandinavian governments.
Mimi Ito, a researcher in the Digital Youth study, reports it’s important to reveal “how adults often unreasonably curtail young people’s freedom and voice.” She states that, “Age is one of the most naturalized forms of oppression that we have,” the least questioned among racism, sexism, and classism despite ongoing “generational tension and moral panics.” In modern times adolescents are segregated in schools, but electronic media allows them to access adult worlds, to be unsupervised, and have more private conversations than phones may permit. Ito studies girls’ mobile phone culture to explore “girl-led tech innovation.” She observes that now that more adults join youth in using social media, traits that were attributed to youth such as “drama, oversharing, narcissism, attentional fragmentation, are certainly not age specific.”
Girls are a majority of the world’s illiterates and children not attending school, although the World Bank’s “Voice and Agency” reported on the multiplier effect indicates that education for girls increases their earning ability and inhibits child marriage and too early childbirth. The World Economic Forum (WEF) found a clear correlation between gender equality–measured by access to employment, education, participation in government and health–and Gross Domestic Product. Educating girls is especially linked to increased prosperity and healthier children. However, the WEF reported only a small improvement in the gender gap over the nine years it collected data, up only four percent from 2006 to 2014.
Despite lip service by development experts to the importance of including “girl power” and women in development programs, a small percent is spent on gender equality in programs funded by the UN, NGOs and governments. “Girl Power” is a popular concept. Australian Anita Harris believes that girls are used by Western commercial interests to symbolize the self-made “can-do” girl of the future, mixing feminism and the concept of “grrrl power” with neoliberal capitalist individualism.  Girls are portrayed as the “poster girls for success in neoliberal times” and “the ideal citizens of the future,” so long as they’re compliant entrepreneurs and consumers.
The Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project polled people in 22 nations about gender equality. Released in 2010, it reported that solid majorities support it but say inequality persists in their countries, as many believe that men have better paid jobs. Women are far more likely than men to think gender inequality is problematic. Muslim respondents—men more than women—are least likely to advocate equality and in fact their preference for equality in marriage decreased over time in Nigeria and Pakistan. When asked if it’s more important for a boy to have a university education than a girl, a majority agreed only in Egypt (50 percent), among Nigerian Muslims (50 percent), in Pakistan (51percent) and India (63 percent)–the only country without a Muslim majority. However, women are more than half of Egyptian university students, up from 46percent in 2006, although 36.5 percent of Egyptian women were illiterate in 2010, with less gender difference among younger Egyptians.
The Middle East is a region where women struggle especially hard to be heard, to be represented in government and to be employed. Muslim women are among the bravest of feminists, as discussed in my Brave: Young Women’s Global Revolution. Egypt is the most populous and the worst Arab state for women because of widespread sexual harassment and domestic violence, female genital mutilation (one of the highest rates at nine in ten females who’ve been cut, according to a 2015 Egypt Health Issues Survey, although it was outlawed in 2008, illustrating the importance of social attitudes), discriminatory laws, forced marriages, early marriage (17 percent of girls are married by age 18), trafficking in women, and the lowest labor force participation, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation survey in 2013. It ranked as the tenth worst country (134 among 144 countries), according to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report in 2017 Out of the 144 countries, Egypt was 135 in women’s economic participation, 119 in political empowerment, 104 in education, and 99 in health.
A 2017 International Men and Gender Equality Survey of Middle Eastern men and women reported that Egypt had the lowest scores (Lebanese were the most equitable). Younger women tended to favor gender equality more than older women, but men didn’t differ much by age group. The survey found that more than 90percent of Egyptian men agreed that the man should make the final decision at home, as did 58 percent of women. More than half of the men and almost one-third of women believed there are times when a woman deserves to be beaten. Only 31 percent of the men believed that married women have the right to work outside the home, compared to 75 percent of the women respondents. In her book,
Many feminists talk about the need for a social as well as political revolution, because even leftist men go home to be the boss and egalitarian laws are often not enforced, such as against FGM or sexual harassment. Egyptian feminist Mona Eltahawy commented, “As the miserable poll results show, we women need a double revolution, one against the various dictators who’ve ruined our countries and the other against a toxic mix of culture and religion that ruin our lives as women.” Eltahawy describes her views about being a Muslim woman in Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution (2015). She visited a dozen countries on her book tour, reporting that many women shared with her feelings of guilt and shame about sex. She stopped wearing hijab when a woman in niqab face-covering asked her, “Would you rather eat a piece of candy that was in a wrapper or unwrapped?” Eltahawy replied that she was a woman, not candy. She believes that all three Abrahamic religions are about controlling women and their sexuality (such as Saudi clerics opposing women driving because it damages their ovaries) and that a social-sexual revolution is necessary to save Egypt. Women revolutionaries are “taking it home,” so she has hope that change can occur in a country where she says about 40 percent of households are headed by women.
Eltahawy accused the Arab system of treating women like animals in a “toxic mix of culture and religion” In a controversial and widely read 2012 article titled “Why Do They Hate Us?” She describes Arab men’s attitude toward women as contempt, hostility, and hate, which lead to widespread sexual harassment on the street (99 percent of Egyptian women have experienced it, according to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women’s 2013 report), genital mutilation “to reduce temptation,” unequal status under the law, torture of prisoners, polygamy, and forced virginity tests. Similar to Somali feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, she asks that the outside world not accept the cultural relativism argument that it’s Arab culture and religion “to do X, Y, or Z to women.” Eltahawy states that the Arab uprisings began with a man but “they will be finished by Arab women.” The women who speak out against virginity tests in Egypt and demonstrate in public are revolutionaries pushing against “an ocean of misogyny.” When she interviewed women for a BBC radio documentary titled The Women of the Arab Spring, she found that the revolutions “created a new and combustible power; the power of their rage and the need to use it.” She recently made the news for her tweet #IBeatMyAssaulter where she reported on hitting a man who groped her on a dance floor in the United States, as she rejected female socialization to be nice.
When I was in Egypt in 2011 to research how the youth-led uprising was able to oust President Hosni Mubarak in 18 days, I talked with two university-bound 18-year-old girls and a 22-year-old accounting graduate. They didn’t believe women should be political leaders because they’re “crazy,” not logical and lead with their hearts, while men think before they act and don’t make impulsive decisions. When asked about Angela Merkel and other women leaders and why history is about continual warfare, they said there are exceptions to every rule. Their belief is widespread in Egypt, confirmed al Allam, giving the example of a TV discussion she heard about why women shouldn’t be judges: they’re too emotional especially with monthly hormonal changes, they need their husbands approval to travel, and they might cloud the objectivity of a witness who feels sexual attraction to a woman judge.
I stayed with a dual-earner family in their Cairo apartment. Although it’s a small three-bedroom apartment with a living room, a tiny kitchen and one and a half bathrooms, I never met her husband. He told his wife to ask me to leave after two nights there. She said she was embarrassed to ask me to leave because we had agreed to travel together but didn’t question his decision. When I asked their teenage son and 22-year-old daughter if I could take their photo, they asked their father and he said no. When I asked what the family was doing for their summer vacation, she said her husband hadn’t told her yet. Her lack of voice illustrates prevailing inequality even among well-educated urban Egyptians.
History of Egyptian Feminist Activism
Some colonized countries included women’s movements as part of their nationalist struggles against British rule, as in Egypt and India, and Egyptians point to their ancient history of women pharaohs like Queen Hatshepsut (1473 B.C.). They reject Orientalist portrayal of Arab women as backward and submissive. Women such as feminist Hoda Shaarawi were active in the 1919 “Ladies’ Protests” against British occupation, part of the educated elite. Women demonstrators (some wearing niqab face veils) helped achieve independence in 1922 although British domination continued until the revolution of 1952 when Egyptians overthrew the monarchy and expelled the British military from Egypt. In 1923 Shaarawi co-founded the first formal feminist organization, the Egyptian Feminist Union (EFU) and its two journals, and wrote a memoir describing her activism. The EFU was involved in organizing the pan-Arab feminist movement in the 1930 and 40s. Disbanded by the Nasser government in 1956, it continued as the Huda Sha’rawi Association. (The EFU re-organized in 2012 headed by Hoda Badran.) Shaarawi dramatically removed her veil on a Cairo train station, saying it was a relic of the past. In opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood criticized feminism as Western colonialism and immoral—a theme that widely persists to the present. Providing an Islamic framework, the Muslim Women’s Society was founded by Zaynab al-Ghazali in 1936.
The Daughters of the Nile Union (Bint El-Nil) was organized in 1948 by Doria Shafiq to gain political rights for women. She and 1500 women invaded the parliament in 1951 to demand their rights, reform of the Personal Status Law and equal pay for equal work. The next year the army seized power from the king and gave women the right to vote and fun for office in the 1956 constitution. The Egyptian Feminist Party was founded in 1942, headed by Fatma Neamat Rashed. A sign of re-birth of the women’s movement, Dr. Nawal El Saadawi’s book Women and Sex was published in 1972. The backlash against it signaled increasing Muslim fundamentalism, opposed in the 1980s by new feminist groups such as the New Woman Foundation, the Alliance for Arab Women, and the Committee for the Defense of Women and Family Rights (to reform the Personal Status Law).
Despite decades of feminist activity, extended family remained more important than the husband and wife relationship, youth were expected to obey parents, and sons were valued over daughters, as revealed in the two autobiographies of an exceptional woman, El Saadawi (a documentary about her and other women is Hidden Faces (1990). She was born in a village near Cairo in 1931 when the British ruled Egypt, as she explains in her books about her rebellion against tradition. Big landowners owned most of the agricultural land, not the peasants who took their young girls out of school to help work around the house. Although her relatives were disappointed about the birth of a girl, her parents were loving and supportive of her and her education, as her father was an educator and she was a bright student. Yet when she was six, without warning, a midwife grabbed her and cut off her “impure” clitoris with a razor, saying it was God’s will.
Her parents also bowed to family pressure from her aunts, uncles and grandmother to search for a husband for her, starting when she was only 10. She found ways to scare off the suitors, like blackening her teeth and smiling to show them off to one unappealing man. She also spilled coffee in his lap while deliberately tripping on in her new high heels. This tactic earned her a “sound thrashing” but kept her single. She later picked her own husbands, three of them over time, with two divorces. Starting at age 11, she was no longer allowed to go out of the house to play with other children in the fields, safely kept inside to do domestic tasks. Her parents did allow her to live with her aunt to go to school in Cairo. She joined other girls in her high school to break down the metal door to their boarding school to join a protest march against the British. With her mother’s support, Nawal continued going to school rather than getting married. She became one of the few women doctors, receiving her medical degree in 1955, and then became director of public health education for the government until she was fired and threatened for her feminism.
The most striking theme of Dr. El Saadawi’s autobiographies is the cruelty with which girls and women are treated by both sexes. The custom in her village was that a bridegroom should beat his new bride with a stick before she eats any of his food to make the point he ruled over her on earth, just as Allah rules from Heaven. The Quran teaches “to the male a share equal to two females,” so her grandmother gave the boys twice as much as the girls. Romantic love was also haram (sinful, forbidden) despite all the love songs on the radio that didn’t mention marriage. The boys had a saying, “Nothing shames a man but his pocket,” since not having money is the only thing to cause shame to a man. In contrast she explained, “Everything in a woman’s life was seen as shameful, even her face” (similar to Manal al-Sharif’s girlhood, the Saudi woman driver who wrote about her transformation to feminism in Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening.) El Saadawi’s wrote about her aunt and other women like her, “It was the cruelty that had grown in them through suppression, the steam held back under pressure until their bodies were filled with it to bursting point.”
She slept in Tahrir Square during the January 2011 revolution, said she was changed by the revolution, and opposed the counter-revolution that occurred afterwards: “We are still facing a system based on power and no justice, in Egypt and in the world.” She observed that more education is necessary in a country with so many illiterate people who can be brainwashed. Two months after the revolution El Saadawi founded the Egyptian Union for Women (EUW).
An EUW staffer explained feminist history to me. Omar Ahmed studied foreign trade at Helwan University, participated in the Tahrir Square revolution in 2011, and is the only male staff member for the organization committee at the EUW. He believes he only has one life so he invests in it fully. His parents are liberal, although his mother wears hijab because she considers it her duty as a Muslim woman. His feminist beliefs started when he was a boy and his nanny read to him, including Qasim Amin, a 19th century male nationalist writer who some consider the Arab world’s first feminist. Amin wrote, “The inferior position of Muslim women is the greatest obstacle that prevents us from advancing toward what is beneficial for us,” and opposed veils for women as a symbol of slavery.
Omar stated that under King Farouk women had the right to vote and go to school, but when army officers overthrew Farouk in 1952, women lost ground under President Gamal Nasser (1954-1970). State feminism was implemented by Nasser and the presidents who followed him and their wives, providing access to education and work but not changing male-dominated family law. Doria Shaiq and other feminists conducted a hunger strike to pressure the Nasser Regime to give women the vote, which they got in 1956. Family law remained unequal although Nasser’s socialist Charter for National Action stated in 1962, “Woman must be made equal to man.” His administration didn’t allow opposition or feminist organizations.
President Sadat’s rule (1970-1981) brought Islamic fundamentalism to the fore, influenced by Saudi Arabian Islam. Sadat’s 1971 constitution allowed gender equality only if it didn’t conflict with Shari’ah law. It lives on in the Muslim Brotherhood whose older members view women as the gateway to hell, not fully human, as Dr. El Saadawi was told as a child, because women are “bent” and need to be straightened—perhaps by being beaten, so that the majority of souls in hell are female. Egyptian identity cards include religion and people can also tell the difference between a Coptic Christian and a Muslim by their names. A Muslim woman who married a Christian told me that it was illegally and socially unacceptable to even be seen together on the street. Omar believes Islamic traditionalists have majority support in the villages and that the Egyptian education system teaches obedience to parents, teacher, and boss. Around six TV channels are Islamic. (The military regime outlawed the Brotherhood in 2013 accompanied by much bloodshed and imprisonment of thousands of Brotherhood and secular protesters.) As the Internet expands to the villages, Omar thinks it will gradually counter the influence of fundamentalists. (Over a third of Egyptians have Internet access, 31 percent of women and 37 percent of men).
In the late 1970s Sadat encouraged programs for women’s rights in order to appear modern to the West. Encouraged by his wife Jihan Sadat and feminist groups, he developed the Egyptian Women’s Organization and the National Commission for Women. Jihan led legal reforms for women’s family law that were later canceled by President Hosni Mubarak (1981-2011) who formed the state-run National Council of Women headed by his wife Suzanne in 2000. He passed a law giving the Ministry of Social Affairs the power to dissolve NGOs. Dr. El Saadawi was jailed for months in 1981 due to her feminism, the same year that Sadat was assassinated and replaced by Hosni Mubarak. She wrote Memoirs from the Women’s Prison on toilet paper with a smuggled eyebrow pencil.
Pressed by Islamists, President Mubarak abolished Sadat’s progressive laws. Suzanne Mubarak banned the Egyptian Feminist Union as she took control of women’s and children’s issues and became associated with the women in development movement and the National Council for Women formed in 2000. A law passed making FGM illegal and giving women the right to initiate divorce, but Egyptian writer Rana Allam states that it was passed for wealthy women because a lawyer is expensive in contested cases, the woman give up all financial rights, as well as having to give back her dowry and wedding jewelry. It costs a lot to file these cases and it takes a minimum of two years in court, during which time the woman remains under the control of her husband. Basically they are made for the rich and powerful women who are unable to get their husbands to divorce them. Men can divorce their wives without going to court, sometimes without her knowledge until get gets a notification. Another divorced woman, Kessa explained when I asked what led to her feminism,
It wasn’t much of a choice really, when you face sexism and discrimination, sometimes by law, since you are a child. The inheritance laws robbed me of my inheritance from my father. Going through life without a male (father, brother, uncle at home can be very tough in a misogynistic society. Then the laws hit me again as I was trying to leave my ex-husband. I ended up giving up my home and all my financial rights, to get my divorce. My marriage itself was a challenge, because most men, including my ex-husband, believe they have a right to “straighten their wives” and “obedience” is the name of the game, or you get beaten. Then misogyny struck again as I became a divorced mother living alone. That is not to mention what we face on the streets and at work. It is really hard not to become a feminist and fight for our rights.
I asked her why other women who face abuse don’t protest and which groups are most effective in helping women without the advantage of a good education.
Maybe they find it easier to conform and get a man to handle all thing– surrender instead of fight which is rooted in the culture and tradition they were brought up to believe. The best approach I saw was that of Legal Aid NGOs, those who take the fight to court for these women, free of charge like Azza Soliman and her CEWLA organization. Many civil society organizations worked on awareness, but now that work has stopped since Sisi passed the harsh NGO law. These organizations would go to rural communities, talk to women, hold sessions, and tell them about their rights.
Women’s rights organizations were allowed to develop and they proliferated with a focus on economic development, and commitment to the United Nation’s CEDAW was reaffirmed. In 1982 Al-Saadawi founded the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association, critical of Shari’ah. In 1986 it organized its first conference with the slogan “unveiling the mind.” The Women and Memory Forum organized in 1995 to publish translations of feminist books; their first book was Reader on Gender and Political Science in 2010, moving on to books about academic disciplines. Groups formed to combat sexual harassment, such as Hasassmap that showed online where assaults occurred.
Family laws were passed to give women the right to divorce, travel without their husband’s consent, etc., in what is called First Lady Syndrome. The Child Law was amended in 2008 to raise the minimum legal age for marriage to 18 and ban FGM. The literacy rate for women age 15 to 24 increased to 77percent by 2009 and most girls were enrolled in elementary school (by 2014, 65 percent of women were literate compared to 82 percent of men). When Mubarak was ousted, “Suzanne Mubarak laws” were suspect.
After Mubarak, the military ruled Egypt for 18 months, then a Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi, was elected in the first free election. He only served a year because he was ousted and jailed by the military led by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who felt backed up by a huge demonstration against Morsi’s Islamist policies–even bigger than the January 2011 protests. Rana Allam said that actually, “Not bigger by all means. The 2011 protests erupted in all of Egypt, the June 30 were only in Cairo and very small ones in a couple of other cities. Sisi propaganda claimed they were bigger, but they were not.”
El-Sisi became the next freely elected president although as head of the Armed Forces he defended the invasive “virginity tests” of women demonstrators as protecting the soldiers from accusations of rape. Allam explained that women supported him because they were afraid of Morsi’s Islamic government because “ The first thing Islamists do is to oppress women. Women have to be covered, not work, etc. Sisi spoke nicely, promised to rid them of the oppressor.” However, he is the most repressive ever. In one of the worst killings of demonstrators in recent history, his security forces killed about 1,000 pro-Morsi demonstrators occupying Rabaa al-Adawiya Square on August 14, 2013, and thousands more were wounded. His regime allows for no criticism, jails and tortures thousands of men and women, and shuts down feminist and other civil rights NGOs. The government shut down independent media except for a few online news outlets, charity libraries, and blocked over 400 websites including Human Rights Watch website, as reported by Allam. She said as feminist groups are shut down, their leaders are the face of the woman’s movement. They continue to speak out on social media. President Trump praised Sisi for doing a “fantastic job” with no mention of the rollback in civil rights.
Recent Women Revolutionaries in Egypt and Globally
Young women globally exhibit great courage in fighting for their fights. The most well known is Pakistani Malala Yousafzai’s advocacy of education for girls since she was 11. Young women led recent uprisings in Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Morocco, Israel, Chile and recently the United States’ Never Again movement; the chronological list is available online. Young women protesters are on the street, rotating to the front lines against police attacks, as Yara was at age 15 in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011, described in the case study below. Despite women’s leadership, a study of 843 protest movements from 2006 to 2013 reported that only 50 of the protests focused women’s rights and 23 on LGBT rights. The main themes were economic inequality and real democracy. Leftist and nationalists groups often say women’s issues and class inequality will be addressed after the revolution.
In general, what’s driving the recent cycle of global activism are the effects of neoliberal capitalism in increasing both youth unemployment and inequality with the 1 percent versus the 99 percent. Only 85 individuals own as much wealth as half the world, according to Oxfam; in the US the 40 richest people own as much as half of all the others. Some of them don’t feel obliged to share the wealth: Billionaire Charles Koch said, “I want my fair share and that’s all of it.” Slogans used by activists are posted on social media like brand names: “Enough!” (the most common, used again in Never Again in 2018), “Democracy Now,” “Peaceful, peaceful,” “Bread, Freedom, Social Equality,” and “The people want the end of the regime.” Practical information is passed along such as how to counteract police use of tear gas with onions, lemon juice or vinegar.
Activist academic David Graeber explained that “the enemy is becoming increasingly globalized and the only way it [neoliberalism] can be challenged is by global movements.” He believes that the global revolutions that started in 2011 “permanently changed the very language of popular democracy.” Unlike past movements, the new ones don’t aim to take over the system from within or use force. They aim to “create a territory outside the system entirely,” in prefigurative politics that include awareness of feminist issues such as who dominates in meetings. Recent feminist activism is described in Social Sciences For an Other Politics: Women Theorizing Without Parachutes (2017) as “plural, prefigurative, decolonial, ethical, ecological, communal and democratic.” Women are the main leaders of prefigurative politics that experiment with creating utopias now, according to British academics Ana Dinerstein and Sarah Amsler: “From projects in cooperative production to anti-oppressive education, from radical ecologies and pedagogies to experimentation with new economic possibilities, concrete processes of prefiguration now clearly anticipate a better future in the present.” This effort opposes patriarchal, authoritarian, capitalist, violent and colonial structures—also true of the recent uprisings in general.
Some activists use distinctly female tactics. During the Yemeni revolution led by journalist and mother Tawakkul Karman in 2011, women used the tribal norm against violence against women in battle by sitting on the floor and reciting the Quran to keep soldiers at bay. In the 2007 international “Panties for Peace” campaign against military rule of Burma/Myanmar, women coordinated by a Thai group sent underpants to Burmese embassies because the generals believe that contact with women’s underwear robs them of their power. Panties were also used in protests in India against the Hindu right as they mailed pink panties to the offices of the reactionary group Sri Ram Sena, after women were beaten for being in a bar with men. Threatening female nudity jump started Liberian peace talks.
Withholding sex is another women’s tactic as in the Ukrainian “Don’t Give it to a Russian” T-shirt and Facebook campaign in 2014. Proceeds were donated to the Ukrainian army. Co-founder Irina Rubis said, “Sex is known for being one of the most effective elements of drawing substantial attention to campaigns. For us the slogan on the T-shirts is not about sex.”
Jessica Taft interviewed 75 girls in Vancouver (British Columbia), San Francisco, Mexico City, Caracas and Buenos Aires. She found the common pattern in girls’ organizing is aiming for a positive and optimistic feeling in their groups, and emphasizing ongoing learning and discovery with horizontal and consensus decision-making. Their groups often provide them with the resource of a network of friendship and support, especially when other girls in their schools think activism is “nerdy or boring.” Social movement theorists point out that collective identity generates support for movements like these activist girls who identify as politicos.
Social scientists point out that in the science of cooperation “tend and befriend,” is associated with female animals and humans as significant a part of human survival and evolution along with “fight or flight.” Research suggests that women leaders are more likely to collaborate rather than to dictate. FRIDA, a funding organization for young feminists globally, observes that the groups they fund are typical of women’s organization in using co-leadership to share power, moving away from focus on the individual leader to the collective.
Egyptian women were leaders in organizing strikes like the textile workers in Mahalla who walked out of their factory in December 2006, urging the male workers to follow them. They chanted, “Here are the women. Where are the men?” A 2008 strike in the largest textile factory was led by Amal Al-Saad, who was also active in the 2011 revolution. A famous blogger during the January 2011 revolution Gigi Ibrahim, age 24, said she learned that women started most of the labor strikes during this era. The YouTube documentary titled Egypt: We Are Watching You tells the story of how three women started a grassroots campaign for democracy in 2005.
Women bloggers who wrote about women’s issues formed a website and campaign in 2006 called “We Are All Laila” because, “Our goal is to have a voice which expresses our suffering as we are fed up of having others speak on our behalf.” Kefaya (Enough), the grassroots Egyptian Movement for Change was organized in 2004 to make sure Mubarak wouldn’t hand over power to his son Gamal. A Kefaya tactic was “sudden demonstrations,” where two young women on either side of a street would hand out leaflets, followed by two guys as guards. It usually took about 20 minutes for police to get on the scene, then the women would run and a fifth person would distract the police. Kefaya was the first movement to challenge Mubarak with street demonstrations.
Esraa Abdel Fattah is known as Facebook Girl because she co-founded the April 6 Youth Movement in 2008, a Facebook group supporting striking textile workers that attracted over 74,000 followers. The group later was involved in the January 2011 uprising. Abdel Fattah’s use of Facebook to organize demonstrations was pioneering. She never planned on becoming an activist but was schooled in politics with other young people, some as young as 16, in the liberal Al-Ghad party. She got involved in Kefaya because she’d had enough of Mubarak who portrayed himself as the father of his people. She encouraged youth to speak out against corruption and military rule. Arrested for calling for a strike, her two weeks in prison in 2008 made her famous.
In 2010 Abdel Fattah co-founded Free Egyptian Women to train political leaders throughout the country and was the media coordinator for the Egyptian Democratic Academy, although her mother told her there was no hope for change in Egypt, indicating the generational divide. During the revolution, Abdel Fattah was a spokesperson on TV, telling viewers the protesters would not negotiate until Mubarak resigned. She reported that 200,000 people were in Tahrir Square and millions more were following events on social media. After the large turnout, her mother told her to continue, that Mubarak would leave. She referred to her mother a lot because, “mothers are the main source of power in the family.” She complained that five years after the revolution she was accused of being a traitor, a foreign agent, part of the group of young people who “destroyed the country.” She is banned from leaving Egypt, along with some other civil rights leaders. However, she believes that the younger generations will take to the streets again to demand freedom, bread, justice and dignity because President el-Sisi’s administration has arrested about 40,000 political activists and outlawed demonstrations that don’t have police permission. She warned, “Even people who write their opinions on Facebook or Twitter are questioned about their writings.”
Protests occurred in all the major Egyptian cities in January 2011, not just Cairo. Rana Allam told me on Skype that the revolution succeeded because the whole country came to a standstill, with no work, no school in every city. Millions were on the streets so police weren’t able to disperse them; in reaction police hid under their beds. The most important factor, Allam said, is the military did not want Mubarak to turn power over to his son Gamal, a civilian, and turned their support to the rebels. Egyptians are taught to love their military as their brothers, their defenders, part of nationalist education in schools.
Egyptian activist Jawad Nalbusi said the women who demonstrated against President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in January 2011 were amazingly brave: “If there is to be a renaissance in this part of the world, it will be from women, not men. The women will lead.” Amal Abdel Hadi, MD, a founding member of the New Women Association, reported the revolution catapulted Egyptian women into the public sphere. A 29-year-old male filmmaker commented on the physical presence of women, “Girls! Some wore hijabs, some didn’t, Christians, Muslims—I’d never seen that.” Hadi observed,
The mainstream media only seeks the images and voices of men, but I am an eyewitness and I can tell you that women, especially young women, are omnipresent in this revolution. They are doing amazing arts activities. Their creative graffiti, pictures, workshops, et cetera…are mindblowing. What is most amazing is that these young women are literally living in Midan al Tahrir [in tents near men]. This would have been unheard of before!
She added, “We are seizing this opportunity to push boundaries–to dare to talk about taboo issues related to women” such female circumcision. Photos of women’s political graffiti are online. Aya Tarek is known as one of the youngest (born in 1989 in Alexandria) and most talented street artists, as seen online along with other women graffiti artists. A graffiti painting in Tahrir Square called “The Circle of Hell” went viral, showing a group of men assaulting a woman and a video shows Mira Shihadeh painting it. Other artists produce a feminist comic book, The Jewelry Box (Shakmagia) published by Nazra Center for Women’s Studies, and zines such as TokTok about life in Cairo since 2011. After el-Sisi became president in May of 2014, newspapers stopped including political cartoons due to government censorship.
Women who wrote about the revolution include Nariman Youssef’s book Summer of Unrest: Tahrir–18 Days of Grace (2011); Ahdaf Soueif’s Cairo: My City, Our Revolution (2012); and Mona Prince’s Revolution is My Name: An Egyptian Woman’s Diary from Eighteen Days in Tahrir (2014). Prince became a writer and English literature professor. In her diary she described being beaten and molested by police and her mother sitting in a chair to block the door so Prince couldn’t join the demonstrators. She said the revolution was about hope, as revealed in a sign she made: “Now I can Get Married and Have Children. There is Hope in the Future.”
Asmaa Mahfouz, 26, is called the Leader of the Revolution in Egypt because of her famous video appealing to men’s honor to come to Cairo’s Tahrir Square on January 25, 2011. Her parents forbade her to demonstrate on the street or use the Internet, so she used her phone to organize from her bedroom. This illustrates the importance of electronic media in enabling women to be powerful activists around the world, even from their bedrooms. Mahfouz called Egyptians to come to Tahrir Square on January 25 for their human rights, their honor and dignity, on a viral Facebook video seen in the endnote with an interview with journalist Amy Goodman. Wearing hajib and speaking from home, she said, “If you think yourself a man, come with me on January 25th. Whoever says women shouldn’t go to protests because they will get beaten, let him have some honor and manhood and come with me on January 25th.” She added, “If you stay at home, then you deserve all that’s being done and you’ll be guilty.”
She called on demonstrators to protest in the name of four young men who followed the example of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia who set himself on fire to protest corruption. She said Mubarak’s officials threatened her if she left her home. Mahfouz reported, “Women participated, no different from men, in all aspects of the revolution. Women fought with police in Tahrir Square throughout the 18-day rebellion, and have continued to take part in street activism into the post-Mubarak era.” Videos show women active in the demonstrations.
When Mahrouz did a teach-in for Occupy Wall Street in October of 2011, Amy Goodman asked her why she was so brave; “ I saw many people die so I decided to demand our rights and our freedom, even if I go alone and make a video. I can’t believe it when I saw a million in Tahrir on January 25 at 2:00 o’clock. I believed that change was coming but not so fast.” When asked about her advice to young women, she said, “Women are as strong as men, really, not just words. You have to believe in your own powers, believe that you’re very strong.” The We Are All Khaled Said Facebook page administrator posted that Mahfouz is “a girl who is more manly than 100 men . . . You have to listen to her.” Women participated from the first day on the front lines, in the streets, and as planners and organizers, as seen in videos and reports.
Although women were only about 10 percent of the people on the streets in previous protests, they were about a third to half of the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, including women aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) who led chants in a radical shift from their past. They smuggled food and medical supplies to Tahrir Square under their black robes, and ripped up pavement rocks. Women and girls were the first to bring blankets to sleep in the square, they nursed the injured, opened their homes to activists, and sat in leadership circles discussing actions in Tahrir Square, as shown in my photos on Facebook (along with some interviewees). The Muslim Sisters affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood helped with security, checking females who entered through security checkpoints. Israa Abdel Fattah appeared frequently on television to announce Mubarak had to go before the protesters would negotiate.
When I asked a high school teacher named Amal why she participated in the Cairo demonstrations, she said, “Women were there from the first day, the very beginning of the revolution. She is a human and wants her rights in her country with her brothers; we went to support our brothers. Every time I went to Tahrir Square I felt safe, I got support from the young men there; like a utopia they praised me and other women for being there.”
Another demonstrator, Saydael is a divorced nurse, who, like Amal, relied on Facebook pages like “We Are All Khaled Said” to keep protesters like her connected, along with their cell phones. Before Saydael felt very alone, but in Tahrir, “everyone is together like one hand.” She said men and women support each other, but traditional attitudes die hard. Some of the men still want women to be subordinate and think their place is in the home. Saydael suggested men want a woman to look down at the man’s feet, not up at his face, to try to break her spirit. Maybe men fear being controlled, she said.
With a university student translating, I interviewed a blue-collar woman from Upper Egypt who worked in a clothing factory. She wasn’t able to get an education from poor quality government schools so she paid for tutoring to be literate. She’s not married but would like to be so she can have her own home. She’ll pick her own husband rather than her parents, because she’s the one who will live with him. She by came by herself, a courageous act, to demonstrate for democracy because she wants a secure country where women can walk freely in the streets anytime, without unpleasant touching and words. She had been harassed recently on the streets outside the square so she wants police to help protect women; as it is, they don’t care.
The revolution opened her eyes to new ways of thinking. Before, she didn’t think about anything but work. Now she thinks that women have the same abilities to protest as men. She asked if it’s true that women have “strong personalities” in the West and why there and not in Egypt. I said yes, women like Mary Wollstonecraft in Britain started advocating the rights of women in the late 18th century, so the West has a long history of feminist struggle. Also, Jesus made no gender distinctions, breaking traditional customs about women’s roles, as they traveled with him and discussed religious issues.
Women bloggers played an important role in the revolution. Shima’a Helmy reported on the daily events in Tahrir Square and kept foreign journalists informed, defied her father and went to the square with her siblings. Journalist Dina Sadek threw stones at police and joined in her favorite chant, “Down down, Hosni Mubarak.” In the beginning of the demonstrations she saw mostly youths, of various social classes. An older man apologized to an injured young man, “If only my generation had been brave enough to do this a long time ago, you wouldn’t have to go through this now.” Revolutionary Socialist Gigi Ibrahim was a voice of the revolution for western news shows with her excellent command of English because she grew up in California. She was one of a group of youth activists on the cover of TIME magazine, February 2011. Her blog “The Angry Egyptian” is widely read. Sanaa el-Seif published a newspaper, defying a government order to shut it down. Leil Zahara Mortada was another blogger who kept the world informed, like Zeinobia is one of the most famous bloggers in Egypt who says she posts everything that happens on her “Egyptian Chronicles.” She describes herself on the blog; “I am just an Egyptian girl who lives in the present with the glories of the past and hopes in a better future for herself and for her country.”
A study of 11 young women’s personal blogs about the revolution reported that before January 25, the general mood was frustration and depression about of women, government corruption, street children, etc. The moral shock of Khaled Said’s murder by police for exposing their corruption in 2010 aroused anger, followed by excitement after the Tunisian revolution and the large turnout in Tahrir Square. A blogger named Deppy wrote on February 6, “Yesterday, I was a girl who stood on the verge of hopelessness, who lost faith in a better tomorrow, who was living like a zombie at one time….Today, I am a girl with a fresh-born patriotism, with a full tank of enthusiasm, with a handful of bubbly dreams.” The bloggers remarked about male protesters’ helpfulness and the lack of sexual harassment and not wanting to leave the “angels” in the square. The young women bloggers commented on the diversity of ages in the square, including children chanting “Down with Mubarak!” The bloggers wrote that many women had to fight with their families to participate, as we’ve learned; they were threatened with being cut off financially or cursed, but many women protested in Tahrir anyway. An American scholar who was in occupied Tahrir said she never experienced sexual harassment or anti-foreign insults. 
Citizen journalist and blogger Sarrah Abdel Rahman kept her 20,000 Twitter followers and viewers of her YouTube video series (Walla Eih) informed about events in Tahrir Square. She predicted, “I have faith in myself, and my generation. We are still young and the road to a better Egypt will be long and very difficult, but we have already been through so much and it has only made us stronger. We have finally got our voices back and don’t plan on losing them any time soon.”
Two women activists are featured in the 2014 documentary The Square: Ragla Omran fights for the rights of imprisoned activists and filmmaker Aida El Kashef set up the first tent in Tahrir and co-founded a citizen journalism group. Video blogger Sarrah Abdelrahman, age 23, said her life changed on January 25: “It gave me life, it gave me a sense of ownership over the physical and figurative space my body occupies. I learned that day the importance of their principles; freedom, bread and social justice.” She was one of the women that fought on the front lines and grew disappointed with the false claim that the army was on the side of the youth. Sally Zohney worked for UN Women Egypt and is a storyteller with the women-led group BuSSy, founded in 2006 at the American University in Cairo, to encourage people to “break the silence” about issues like being unmarried or domestic violence. She reported that after the revolution, everyday feminism blossomed in the wake of the revolution. The topic became no longer elitist and exclusive to closed doors events.” In February 2011 the Coalition of Feminist Organizations in Egypt coordinated 16 groups including Nazra: Association for Feminist Studies and the New Woman Foundation. Hibaaq Osman, the founder of the women’s rights NGO Karama (dignity), concluded that “The revolutions in the Arab world have opened up many new possibilities for women,” as governments changed and Arab women’s NGOs work together.
After the Revolution
After the revolution, sexism returned even stronger due to backlash against women speaking out and women’s issues were put on the back burner. Fear rules everything, reports Rana Allam. Even the youth are afraid to speak out, especially on university campuses where students are prohibited from political talk. A female student at the Suez Canal was arrested just for carrying pictures of former President Morsi in her bag in 2014. Professors would turn students in if the organized a meeting. “This era is the worst for students,” reported Mohamed Nagy, a researcher at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, who said the security forces specifically target students. Sisi gave the government the power to appoint university president and deans in 2014 and gave them the power to expel students at will. The government even shut down art galleries or cafes where youth would gather. Youthful activists are blamed for not organizing a plan to fill the vacuum after Mubarak left but Allum explained there is no democratic infrastructure as they are detained once they speak up: A Facebook post is all it takes. She said, “Every day we hear about a young person who was forcibly disappeared or detained. Sisi has gotten rid of opposition parties and the five most serious candidates who might run against him for reelection.
The Egyptian rebels fought for bread, freedom and dignity, but women were not organized as a group to make demands for women’s rights. Reem Wael said women were betrayed as soon as formal politics took over after Mubarak’s dethroning and women were told to go back home. She argues women’s liberation has little chance to succeed in a nationalist struggle because, “National revolutions are inherently male, Women are allowed to participate but not to feature feminist goals, told their issues will be considered after the revolution, similar to what Nehru and Gandhi told women involved in the Indian liberation struggle. Exceptions are women’s movements developed at the same time as nationalist movements in Algeria, South Africa, Palestine, and in some Latin American countries.”
Wael reported the “woman friendly” atmosphere in Tahrir changed the day that Mubarak resigned in February 2011. Women were considered 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 women’s event occurred, it was attacked. When a small group of women and men marched on International Women’s Day in March of 2011, mixed sex crowds followed them chanting Islamic slogans and “the people want to bring down women.” In reaction, many feminist NGOs sprung up like mushrooms. The Coalition of Egyptian Feminist Organizations was founded in 2011 and Girls Revolution was organized by Ghadeer Ahmed as a Facebook and Twitter on the first anniversary of January 25 to share experiences of sexism. Egyptian Women for Change was founded the previous year. Young women are also active in the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, Egyptian Youth Association for Development, the New Woman Foundation, socialists and workers’ groups and other progressive organizations. Some of them organized discussion groups in Tahrir during the January demonstrations.
An EUW staff member, student Sally Ali El-haak, age 18, emailed me that being an avid reader since she was 12 made her realize “there are no limits.”
I knew Nawal from her writings: My parents are totally against her and that caused many problems in home! They were against me because I’m so rebel and upset from this sick society! I met Nawal for the first time at some youth gathering at her place to discus political issues and secularism and her books. It’s a monthly forum she tried to found it 20 years ago and after the revolution, Mubarak and his regime won’t obstacle her again. So, Me, Omar, and Dina are her assistants in the EUW.
She later added about her mother, “Though I’m suffering problems in home, she started to accept my different mentality because once she was like me, but I’m more rebel! It’s important to me that me and Mama are close friends now and she really feels happy when I make a success!”
Fault lines came to the surface after the revolution, with attacks on women getting worse, including virginity checks for women prisoners. The reactionary shift meant that feminists have to debate old issues such as child marriage and girls’ education, and that women’s “bodies have become part of the battlefield itself, a means to control political action” by women: “It seems that the feminist movement was genuinely unprepared” for this assault from reactionaries. However, some see the silver lining of increasing repression as bringing “activism to a new level of intensity,” similar to the Trump effect in the United States.
In 2015, a graduate student at Cairo University, Zainab Magdy talked with many people who share her belief in social equality but they “believe that women’s rights are at this moment unimportant in the face of other constant human rights transgressions.” High unemployment (women were only 23 percent of the workforce in 2016, down from 26 percent in 1990) and a weakened economy after the 2011 revolution are seen as more pressing. Despite their second-class citizenship, not even being able to march on International Woman’s Day because of the November 2013 anti-demonstration law, Magdy reported women are fighting back with “endless initiatives, campaigns and social events, workshops and artistic events” and on social media.
However, 99 percent of Egyptian women still experience sexual harassment, according to 2013 United Nations interviews. Cairo was faulted as the most dangerous city for women out of 19 cities, worse since the revolution, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation study in 2017. Groups like Tahrir Bodyguards, the Coalition of Feminist Organizations in Egypt, I Saw Harassment, the Daughters of Egypt are a Red Line, and Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment (OpAnti-SH) organized to extract women from “circles of hell” mobs of men, to support their recovery from harassment and attacks, and push for prosecution of attackers.
Case Study of a Young Activist
Feminist Standpoint Theory maintains that social research should begin from the bottom up, with marginalized people’s lived experiences. In Marxist theory, a standpoint is a collective identity or voice gained through collective political struggle. Knowledge is grounded in a social context rather than in abstract universal truth. That approach believes that marginalized and oppressed people know the most about their situation and is touted as “one of the most influential and debated theories to emerge from second-wave feminist thinking.” This theory evolved from Marxist feminism along with the Third Wave focus on intersectionality that emphasizes in addition to our gender, we’re influenced by the intersections of our class, ethnicity, nationality, age, religion, and sexual orientation. As feminist philosopher Sandra Harding explained, “Standpoint theories map how a social and political disadvantage can be turned into an epistemic, scientific and political advantage.”
Some argue that feminist theory should be used as a strategy to topple global capitalism because it exposes the “hidden relations of oppression,” the power structures within and between movements, the focus on the male heroes’ public actions on the front line, and what’s omitted from social histories such as black women’s role in the US Civil Right Movement. Building effective alliances “proceeds from the feminist practice of listening closely to and learning from the experiences of others, past and present.”
Media plays a part in this increase in young people’s bravery because it connects them in a network of information and encouragement where they can organize virtually, more out of view of security forces than in a building. Fearlessness characterizes young activists today, partly because middle-class youth grew up with fictional rebels, played fierce video games and were desensitized by violent movies. A Facebook post by an Egyptian member of an ultra soccer fan club addressed to the SCAF ruling military council after President Mubarak’s ouster in 2011 said, “The SCAF don’t know that we are the generation of PlayStation and video games. Hey SCAF, before you take over the authority of Egypt, know that we were killed thousands of times every day till we won the battle with the monster.” Another fan posted after a street battle in 2012, “It’s like playing Mario again, how nostalgic.” Teen Egyptian activist Yara is inspired by the Harry Potter books and film series (2001-2011) in which Harry, Hermione and Ron defy authority—in the most widely read book series in history. Another example of the brave, smart, young heroine is in The Hunger Games young adult novels and films (2012-2015) featuring Katniss, age 16, a clever and compassionate warrior-savior in a dystopian world. When young Hong Kong student activists launched a political party of their own, their poster featured teenage co-founder Agnes Chow shooting an arrow with flames behind her, shown on the cover. The poster says in English “The Younger Games.”
Yara was in Tahrir Square on January 25th, the first day of the 2011 revolution, right after she took an exam in her high school. She celebrated her 15th birthday during the protests. She was involved previously with political groups like the April 6 Youth Movement and had some connections with the administrators of the “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook page. She said a lot of people administered the Khaled page. Her group of activists thought about 200 people would show up in Tahrir Square on January 25, but by around 3:00 PM they heard the ground shaking and were shocked when 80,000 people came to the square.
Yara slept in a tent in Tahrir Square during the January 25 revolution, although Egyptian girls do not ordinarily sleep in mixed sex gatherings. She knows martial arts, so the last man that tried to sexually harass her ended up with a broken hand. She saw people killed by police gunfire, including one of her friends. Their deaths made her want to complete their goals even if it meant she too would be killed. Yara and many of her peers around the world abhor the traditional cycle they are taught to follow: go to school, get into a good college, do a boring job, marry and have kids. They’re ambitious and give each other courage to rebel through their global social networks. When Mubarak announced he was stepping down, Tahrir Square exploded with joy. Yara said, “In that instant all the barriers between my imaginary utopia and the real world faded. I couldn’t tell them apart. Ah yes! That’s why I do this.”
However, her joy didn’t last. During the July 2013 demonstrations that ousted President Morsi, sexual harassment was worse than ever. Yara went to the square with her father but demonstrators begged him not to go into the square because of the violence. After the military coup and rule by General el-Sisi who was elected president in 2014, she’s discouraged and believes that the people want a strongman ruler rather than democracy. She left Egypt to attend university abroad.
We can apply Social Movement Theory to understand Yara’s activism. A movement succeeds when it makes better uses of its resources than the opposition (usually an autocratic ruler). The oppressive government utilizes its resources such as security forces and propaganda in portraying youth activists as hooligans or terrorists. The resources of young middle-class rebels include having the time, energy and ICT connections to organize with many others without much police interference. In a study of Asian student movements, the editors reported that student power is strengthen by self-identity as an activist, the university system, the government, other social movements and allies, and the stage of national economic development. Yara’s intelligence, school success, and encouraging father gave her confidence to speak up against injustice. This served as a resource along with support from her generation of global Internet friends that refuses to accept the status quo.
Current Resurgence of State Feminism and Silencing Civil Society
The new constitution adopted in January of 2014 reserved only 12 percent of parliamentary seats for women, but for the first time set aside 25 percent of the 15,000 local council seats for women and 25 percent for young women and men. The constitution commits the government to “ensure appropriate representation of women,” but not equality. This was better, however, than the Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi’s parliament with 1.6 percent women. Although President el-Sisi promised “fair representation” and is popular with women voters whom he targeted during his presidential campaign, he appointed only four women out of 34 ministerial heads but did appoint 14 women to the 28 parliamentary seats he selects. In 2018, el-Sisi appointed a record six women to the cabinet and he pointed out that women composed 15percent of parliament members, but activists said that state feminism doesn’t make real changes.
In a move against pervasive sexual harassment, his government passed a law to criminalize it in 2014 with up to five years in prison and fines. Sisi visited a hospitalized assault victim who was attacked in Tahrir during his inauguration celebration. He also revived the National Council for Women (NCW) led by Maya Morsy, declared 2017 the Year of Egyptian Women, and directed the government to implement the 2030 Women’s Empowerment Strategy. The NCW formally addressed the problem of sexual harassment in its National Strategy for combating Violence Against Women in 2015, but activists observed the plan didn’t have any teeth. Police and judges generally support the male abuser. How can the state tackle assault when police and military are accused of sexual harassment, including Sisi’s justification of virginity checks of demonstrators as preventing rape?
“We don’t have a functional feminist movement,” stated Dalia Abdel Hameed, head of the gender program at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, because human rights organizations worked for women’s issues—the organizations under attack under the Sisi government. She said the movement has, however, has created a “certain level of correct political awareness,” such as public criticism of sexist statements by prominent people, as more women are speaking up. She thinks real change will require social change so that favorable laws will be enforced.
Young activists distrust political parties, and especially the violent government under Sisi, instead they try to influence their universities, independent political movements such as April 6, and use “artivism.” To understand current Egypt, Hameed recommends the novel Zaat (2004) by Sonallah Ibrahim about a woman who lives under presidents Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak. To listen to many voices around the country, Amira Hanafisaid led the Dictionary of the Revolution, “which aimed to document the rapid amplification of conversation about politics in public space following 25 January 2011.” She emailed, “In order to document this phenomenon, I and my team travelled around Egypt in 2014 with a box of 160 vocabulary cards, each containing a term that was frequently used in public political conversation. We used the box to start conversations with hundreds of people in which they talked about what the words meant to them, who they heard using them, and how their meanings had changed since the revolution. I then worked with transcriptions of these conversations to weave imagined conversations between the participants, 125 of which are presented online.” She suggests looking at words like harassment, virginity test, ideal girl, and abaya with snaps are particularly relevant to women’s issues.
A group of young women from the group Girls Revolution demonstrated outside the Saudi embassy in Cairo in August 2017 to support the Saudi “Photograph Your Legs” campaign to protest the Saudi arrest of a young woman wearing “indecent clothing,” viewed in a Snapchat video of her walking in a short skirt. The Egyptian women said they wanted to confront “patriarchal attempts to dominate women’s bodies.” Egyptians are also part of the transnational #MeToo movement to voice sexual harassment, explained in an article about how OpAntiSH tries to protect women under assault in the streets. However, the only university gender studies program is at the American University in Cairo and it uses English rather than Arabic. Other universities do offer some graduate courses in women’s studies.
Post-revolution, women are “re/making and re/mapping urban Egypt” in a “version of ‘revolution’ as the continual live-streaming of creative energy,” in the cultural and social worlds, observed Margo Badran. Although Egypt was among the worst 10 nations for gender equality, their parliament included the most women in Egyptian history–89 women (15 percent). Allam stated that the parliament is a joke because the political parties were created by intelligence agencies to create the appearance of democracy. Opponents call them “cartoon parties.” The 2014 constitution Article 11 committed the sate to “achievement of equality between women and men.” In 2017—the Year of Egyptian Women–parliament required local councils to reserve 25 percent of their seats for women and the first woman governor was appointed. The Internet lit up with sarcasm and condolences since the previous Year of the Youth saw detention, jailing, disappearances, torture and murders of young people; most of the thousands of political prisoners are youth. The regime even detained a group of singers for posting songs critical of the government. Salifist Islamist groups accused el-Sisi of acting against God’s will by selecting a woman to rule over men and feminists disparaged the revival of state feminism without commitment to equality.
In 2016 the “worst law in Egyptian history,” according to Suzan Fayad, director of el-Nadeem center that helps victims of torture and other violence. The NGO law placed government control over civil society groups under the guise of fighting terrorism. The government put thousands of opponents in prison and prohibits public gatherings of more than 10 people without permission from the Interior Ministry.
Orla Guerin, a BBC reporter, spent four years covering Egypt said that people are increasingly afraid to speak out, as they hear about “Generation Jailed” and about routine sadistic torture with electrocution of sensitive body parts–sometimes followed by death. Many of the arrested are Islamists. Guerin tells about a young woman who was arrested and tortured simply for being at a demonstration, released, and captured again in what’s called “disappearances.” An association for families of the disappeared was organized because it happens often. The founder is a lawyer who was himself disappeared and represents the family of an Italian graduate student, Giulio Regeni, who was kidnapped and tortured to death in Egypt. An 18-year-old boy was arrested without trial for wearing a T-shirt with the writing “A nation without torture.” He was tortured with electric shocks and raped with a stick. The authorities deny these reports but Rana Allam said that people know about the “welcome party” that routinely greets prisoners when they enter police detention centers and prisons. She said the 60,000 political prisoners known about in 2018 didn’t include the disappeared, the ones in detention, or those facing trumped up criminal charges.
In 2016, El-Sisi’s government shut down human rights and feminist organizations, targeting feminist groups Nazra Association for Feminist Studies founded by Mozn Hassan in 2005, Azza Soliman’s Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, and the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture co-founded by Aida Seif el-Dawla. The government banned “terrorist spies” Hassan and Soliman from travel outside the country in what is called a counter-revolution and inhibits their efforts to educate Egyptians about feminism. Solliman also co-founded the international Musawah movement to publicize progressive interpretations of Islam. The feminists were accused of inciting “irresponsible liberation” of women. Groups spoke up in opposition in a statement by signed by 14 Egyptian women’s rights groups, 130 academics (many from the American University in Cairo), and 48 international groups. Many of these groups avoid using the word feminism, which is accused of being a Western harmful influence. Accused of destabilizing the country, Hassan explained, “We’re not this nice acceptable women’s organization, we’re not a development-only [organization]. We think the feminist movement is a political movement. We’ve always had a human rights perspective … we are not like other feminist organizations.” She also praised the diversity of the movement with different approaches: radical, cultural, Islamist and socialist feminists. Their organizational and personal assets were frozen, along with three other civil rights groups and a court upheld the ruling in January of 2017. Human Rights Watch issued a report on other human rights violations that occurred in 2017.
Based in Alexandria, Menna Mosbah is the founder and CEO of YEFL, the Young Egyptian Feminists League that began in 2015. At 27, she already has a decade of experience working for development and women’s groups including a UN Women youth citizenship program and the United Nation’s Development Program, UNDP. At age 20 she was inspired by what she considers the first and only revolution in Egyptian history: “Everything changed.” Women like her were free to raise their voices and felt safe in the squares. They felt they were changing their destiny by opposing corruption, but although the people in power changed, the system hasn’t. Women’s freedom didn’t last as sexual harassment and oppression increased during the 2013 protests against President Morsi. Her parents are well-educated so although worried about that fact that some of her peers who are imprisoned for something they wrote online, they are happy about her work, about her being single, and going on to graduate school in Gender Studies. Traveling to conferences outside the country has had the largest impact on her—“the way I’m talking doesn’t feel Egyptian,” she said in terms of her independence and outspokenness.
When I interviewed her in 2018 she defined the difference between most current women’s groups, which have to abide by government supervision and ability to limit foreign funding, is they aim for human rights. In contrast, unfettered feminists aim for “gender equality” with measureable standards, spelled out in the OECD’s (the economic association of 35 developed countries) gender indicators. This approach has more depth, is less superficial and addresses violence against women including FGM. It aims to empower women and to change the culture, not just inform them about their rights. When I asked Meena about the most active current organizing, she pointed to Nazra for Feminist Studies as the most feminist–as in its effort to pass a law against sexual harassment and to form a feminist alliance.
YEFL is also unusual in that it’s not based in Cairo like the other women’s rights organizations, but has done work not only in Alexandria but Aswan and Luxor. It’s modern in contrast to old-fashioned feminists who view women as victims. Mosbah believes, “We’re not victims, we can decide our destiny.” She doesn’t believe that men and women’s roles are different except for physiology, unlike the only four women government ministers (out of 34) who often say their role as mother or grandmother comes first. Another example of the split in the women’s groups, is most of them thought the 2013 Thomson Reuters Foundation report that Cairo was the most violent city for women was overstated, while she and FEFL worked to build on the report to improve the problem. (A young pop music group called Bnt Elmasrwa sings about this issues, as well as FGM and other women’s problems.)
Seven years after the revolution Mosbah noted that corruption still rules and people who speak out may go to jail. The president would like people to forget about the ideals of the revolution and appeals to older women voters by sweet-talking, saying things like, “women are the light of my eyes.” A friend of hers indirectly criticized President Sisi for giving two islands to Saudi Arabia, referring to an old folk tale, without mentioning Sisi, but he still was sent to jail. Egyptians are used to a pharaoh but are unhappy with the poor economy that lacks industrial imports and may “explode.” However, she thinks it’s even worse in the United States under racist and sexist President Trump.
Mosbah said, “Every time I join a program I’m asked why are you keeping doing this since you’re not seeing a positive impact on the ground?” Many young people she knows are fed up with poor education and lack of jobs and want to leave Egypt, but she doesn’t. She said what keeps her going is her dream of “Planet 50/50” and a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” It takes time to change culture, so she fears she may not see it in her lifetime but believes eventually “everything will change.”
Stephen Bannon, former chief strategist for Donald Trump, fears a revolt against the patriarchy is brewing, with Trump as the symbol of the dominant male. Trump’s theme of make American great again can be interpreted as a desire to give power back to white men. He said, “I am so tired of this politically correct crap.” Bannon told journalist Josh Green that movements like international #MeToo movement against sexual harassment are a powerful political force that will “undo ten thousand years of recorded history” of patriarchy.” He added, “The time has come. Women are gonna take charge of society. And they couldn’t juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He is the patriarch.” Referring to long black dresses won at the Golden Globe film awards in 2018, he said, “This is the Puritans! It’s anti-patriarchy” and our culture will never be the same.”
Ford Motor Company studies future trends because it takes years for a new car to reach the assembly line. Sheryl Connelly, Ford’s manager of Global Trends and Futuring, identified the “Female Frontier” as an important trend. She said, “Women around the world are rising in terms of their prominence, their influence, their success, their personal achievements. . . .” A key factor shaping the future is the increasing number of women graduates and women workers in the new knowledge economy, many of whom delay marriage and parenting to establish their careers. The World Bank reports that the ratio of university graduates is 93 men to every 100 women, including the majority of Saudi, Iranian and Nigerian students. “Women-led movements arising around the world herald a profound shift that changes everything,” according to Osprey Orielle-Lake, Leila Salazar and Lynne Twist. They point to the women leading the Green Energy Revolution in Africa, protecting the Amazonian rainforest, and peace making in Liberia.
Girls and boys in Generation Z are especially liberal, which indicates future egalitarianism, as seen in the activism for gun control by high school students in Parkland, Florida after 17 people were shot at their school on Valentine’s Day in 2018. Gen X has liberal viewpoints: The Varkey Foundation released a study that claims to be the first and largest global survey of Generation Z attitudes in 2017 because there’s “very little in-depth reputable polling on the opinions and attitudes of Generation Z.”  It surveyed 20,088 young people ages 15 to 21 from 20 representative countries in 2016. They were part on online research panels, meaning they all had access to the Internet. Their results reinforced my Global SpeakOut survey findings that educated youth attitudes are “remarkably similar” globally: They’re generally happy, comfortable with diversity, value helping others, are not religious, and are most influenced by their parents. Opposing prejudice, 89percent believe men and women should be treated equally (especially in Canada and China).
In conversations organized by Amira Hanaafi in 2014 around Egypt to collect material for A Dictionary of the Revolution, participants credited youth for leading the revolution but faulted them for not being more organized. One participant said, “We are the youth of Egypt and no ruler can rule us, because we really are Pharaohs and no one can stop us.” Another person observed that the generation in secondary school don’t respect or care about anyone and are fearless because they see their older siblings without a future, so they will be the changemakers. These facts also indicate change will occur: The median age in Egypt is 24, women are a majority of university students and outscore men on international math and science tests and are the majority of new faculty, 38 percent of the population is urban, 39 percent of the population uses the Internet, and youth (age 15 to 24) unemployment rates are high (38 percent of young women and 29 percent of men). Education and Internet access coupled with high unemployment and authoritarian government point to future rebellion
Currently, the most feminist smaller communities are Kurdish Rojava in Northern Syria and the Zapatistas in Southern Mexico. Scandinavia provides the Nordic Model of how to create social and economic equality and break the power of the oligarchic 1percent, while also encouraging private enterprise in mixed economies. Icelandic women told Michael Moore in his documentary Where to Invade Next (2016) that they thought they lived in the best country for women and that when at least three women joint a board they change its culture for the better because they think about all the stakeholders, not just personal gain. They said in Iceland they care about the group, the WE, compared to the ME in the United States.
The Muslim Personal Status law remains a target for feminists such as the Center of Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA) because it has double standards for inheritance (women inherit less than men) and divorce (women must give a justification in court and have no rights to property and child support). She must even give back her wedding jewelry. A man can have four wives but a woman cannot. If a woman remarries she risks losing custody of her children and a Christian woman divorcing a Muslim man loses custody after her children are age six. The law that raised the age for marriage to 18 is not enforced and there is no law against marital rape. The “obedience law” allows a husband to file a complaint if his wife leaves the home without his permission and a husband can be charged with adultery only if the affair occurred in his family home. A woman convicted of adultery will probably be put in jail. Homosexuality is illegal. Feminists look to the example of Tunisia and Morocco that reformed their personal status laws to give women equal rights but debate whether they should refer to secular human rights or Islamic feminists’ “enlightened” interpretations of Islam.
Before democracy can flower in Egypt, the patriarchal family must become more egalitarian, according to Shereen El Feki, who reported that family, headed by a man, is valued more than an individual’s rights. El Feki spent two years interviewing Arabs about sex for her book Sex and the Citadel. She found that many in the Arab world negatively associate Western values with homosexuality, sex before marriage, mixing of the sexes, women’s liberation and pornography, which are feared to undermine Islam and traditional Arab values.
A survey that doesn’t offer much hope for the future, the UN Women and Promundo survey of 10,000 people in Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon and Palestine reported in 2017 that 87percent of Egyptian men and 77percent of Egyptian women believed that women’s role is to “care for the home” and 90 percent of men and 58.5 percent of women believed that men should make the final decisions. Over half the men and one-third of women believe that women sometimes deserve to be beaten and half the women and 70 percent of men support female genital cutting (FSM). Only a quarter of the men and 42 percent of women believed that women should have the same freedom to access the Internet. Younger men were not more liberal; the study authors suggested that the difficult economic situation produced a backlash as unemployed men feed insecure about their masculinity and they were raised in an increasingly conservative Islamic climate. Younger men were more opposed to women politicians than older men. About half of the women in the four countries also had traditional views, although educated people are more likely to support gender equality.
On the hopeful side of the survey, two-thirds of Egyptian men surveyed support gender equity in education, equal pay for both genders and are willing to work with women. Three-quarters of Egyptian women wanted the same right to work; however, the study showed that almost 90 percent of women believed that men’s employment is more important “if employment is scarce.” Many more Egyptian women believed that women can be the leaders of political parties, 76 percent compared to 39 percent of men.
Offering an optimistic view, in her book Fifty Million Rising: The New Generation of Working Women Transforming the Muslim World (2018), Pakistani researcher Saadia Zahidi makes the case that revolution follows the increasing number of educated and employed women, access to smartphones, and the large percentage of young adults in these countries. The tipping point for change is 30 percent, she reports, and currently women are more than 31 percent of the workforce in the Muslim world, “transforming culture.” A third of the working women entered the workforce in this century, predictive of increasing numbers of young women achieving independence—similar to the Prophet Muhammad’s first wife, businesswoman Khadija. Zahidi believes that the largely negative view of Muslim women in the West will have to change to fit the new reality. And so will Muslim men: Zahidi found that many Egyptian men don’t want their wives to work outside the home, seeing it as a threat to their masculinity. Women are often blamed for sexual harassment, especially their choice in clothing.
Rana Allam reports that many of the working lower-class women she knows have to give their earnings to their husbands the moment they walk in the door or risk get beaten. Although more girls are in school it doesn’t necessarily translate into a progressive society because the Egyptian education system is one of the worst, so students don’t learn above civil and social studies or even sex education. What she thinks might bring change is the globalization of information; young people gain knowledge because of the Internet. They know now that a father shouldn’t beat up his children, while it used to be considered normal.
Young women are organizing to be heard, such as Nadine Saleh’s activism at her university in Cairo and other protests: “It was difficult to simply let go of my dream of an Egypt where I could feel safe just because a bunch of ignorant men want to try to steal our voices,” whereas her grandmother was free to wear dresses, went swimming at the beach, and felt safe using public transportation. Rana Allam provided an explanation for the change, “I think this happened with the takeover of the military in the mid-50s, compounded by the invasion of Saudi’s Wahhabi/Salafist ideology which happened in the 70s. These beliefs invaded the mosques and schools and all socio-economic classes, especially those who got rich by working in Saudi and the Gulf countries and came back in the mid 70s, early 80s.”
Girls’ Revolution’s campaigns to enable women’s voices to be heard, organizing the “We Will Wear Dresses” campaign in 2012 in response to blaming women for inviting sexual harassment by wearing the wrong clothes. Their campaign the following year for women to ride bicycles was called “We Will Ride Bicycles” (similar to an earlier cycling campaign in Turkey). The Egyptian Center of Women’s Rights and the UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality held a conference in 2017 titled “A wave of women’s voices…1000 and Counting,” hopefully indicative of more Egyptian women being heard. The Women’s Voices Program works to encourage young women leaders, especially in the local 15,000 local council seats, in a joint effort of government agencies and its National Council for Women, UN Women (the funding source), the civil NGO Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, and a TV channel.
If youth and their allies could unseat President Mubarak in 18 days, they may be able to do the same with President Sisi, often accused of being even more repressive. However, many leaders are in jail and others don’t want to join them. Rana Allam predicted that President Sisi will overturn the two-term limit because he is a megalomaniac and has so many enemies due to people his administration put in prison or fired from their government positions. When I asked her if she was hopeful, she replied, “I most definitely am not hopeful with Sisi in power! No one should be hopeful when a military man rules, especially one who found no moral issue with virginity tests, and with killing over a 1000 people in four hours during their sit-in.” Sisi won with 96% of the vote in 2014 and in the 2018 elections only one man was allowed to run against Sisi, and Moussa Mostafa Moussa stressed his support for the president, although to try to look like a democracy he said, “I have a strong platform that relies on young people and addresses the rising prices.” (Does that mean he would release youth leaders from prison?)
Since the revolution, villagers have connected their daily problems with raising prices or access to health care to the government in a way they didn’t before. They swear at Sisi when a problem occurs. She looks to young people to make change because this generation of college students is brilliant. For example, she knows a third year college student activist in protest and sit-ins, although her friends warned her, “They are going to get you.” But she believes, “I cannot not do this. Some of my friends are dead, disappeared, in jail. I feel guilty about just having a good meal and sleeping in my bed. Unless I protest, I can’t look at my self in the mirror.” Her goal is human rights rather than democracy per se.” (The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information provides current statistics for the number of political prisoners, death sentences, new prisons, and media sites silenced.) The large number of unemployed feel they have nothing to lose, some of their friends are dead or in jail, the economy is tanking, the military squeezing out private enterprise.
Iranian Asef Bayat refers to lifestyle rebellions as a “social nonmovement.” We may think of social movements with demonstrators in the streets as the driver of political change, but Iranian Asef Bayat argues in his books Life as Politics (2013) and Revolution Without Revolutionaries (2017) and that what he calls social non-movements also make change. They occur with lifestyle changes of daily life by many individuals. They aren’t united in an organization or by ideology: “theirs is not a policy of protest, but of practice” as they gradually normalize what wasn’t acceptable. Often these individuals are women, youth, the urban poor, and immigrants. Examples are women in Muslim countries loosely covering their hair and letting their hijab fall off or youth expressing themselves on social media, such as the new middle class in Saudi Arabia. Cell phones allow young Saudi women and men to communicate without their parents’ knowledge.
This may be the hope for Egypt. For example, Bayat observed that rather than participating in organized campaigns, Iranian women resisted authoritarian regimes through daily practices such as running for political office, attending university, jogging, playing soccer, and being employed. In Iran under Islamic rule, for example, progressives succeeded in bringing back equal education, limiting polygamy, and reforming the marriage contract by the power of their ordinary practices. Getting an education and job is probably the best hope to for women’s liberation in Egypt, as it is around the world.
- Girls and women appear to have more egalitarian or horizontal values and ways of organizing than boys and men. As they’re the majority of university students in Egypt and globally, how do you predict they’ll change traditional systems as they assume more power and express their voices?
- Why were conservatives able to take power after the success of the revolution that ousted President Mubarak in 2011? Do you agree with Shereen El Feki (and Gloria Steinem) that democratizing the patriarchal family is the key to achieving equality?
- Could Egypt’s women activists have been as revolutionary without Internet access? How important is it that they could organize from home?
Gayle Kimball, Ph.D. is the author or editor of 16 books, including recent books: Your Mindful Guide to Academic Success: Beat Burnout; Ageism in Youth Studies: Generation Maligned; How Global Youth Values Will Transform Our Future, and Brave: Young Women’s Global Revolution (Volumes 1 and 2).
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 Helen Clark comments about the impact of women in government. http://content.undp.org/go/newsroom/2010/march/helen-clark–international-womens-leadership-conference.en;jsessionid=axbWzt…?categoryID=593043&lang=en
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 Anita Harris. Future Girl: Young Women in the Twenty-First Century. Routledge, 2004, p. 147.
 Harris, p. 184.
 “Gender Equality Universally Embraced, But Inequalities Acknowledged,” Pew Research Center, July 1, 2010.
 Hayat Alvi, “Women’s Rights Movements in the ‘Arab Spring’”
Nagwa Megahed, “Access to University,” Middle East Institute, October 3, 2010.
 “Egypt Worst Country in Arab World for Women,” Ahram Online, November 12, 2013.
 Kate Lyons, “Majority of Men in Middle East Survey Believe a Woman’s Place is in the Home,” The Guardian, May 2, 2017.
 Mona Eltahawy, “Sex Talk for Muslim Women,” New York Times, May 5, 2016.
 Mona Eltahawy, “Why Do They Hate Us?” Foreign Policy, May 2012.
 Hayat Alvi, “Women’s Rights Movements in the ‘Arab Spring,’” Journal of International Women’s Studies, Vol. 16, No. 3, July 2015.
 Hulda Shaarawi. Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist, 1879-1924. Feminist Press, 1987.
 Nawal El Saadawi. A Daughter of Isis. Zed Books, 1999. She also wrote two novels, The Circling Song (1989) and Searching (1991) about women in a patriarchal society.
 Ibid, p. 312.
 Ibid., p 11.
 Nawal El Saadawi. A Daughter of Isis, p 235.
 Faisal Al Yfai, ‘Top Egyptian Feminist Says ‘Nothing has Really Changed,’ Since Revolution,” The National, May 12, 2012.
 Women’s Learning Partnership
 The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is considered the most important international agreement on the rights of women and girls and has been ratified by 188 nations. “The CEDAW Convention is at the core of our global mission of peace, development and human rights,” observed former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
 Women’s rights activism in post-Jan25 Egypt: Combating the Shadow of the First Lady Syndrome in the Arab world
- Source: Middle East Law and Governance, Volume 3, Issue 1-2, pages 84 – 93 Publication Year : 2011
- DOI: 10.1163/187633711X591440
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 Nikki van der Gaag, “Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls 2013,” Plan International, 2013, p. 95.
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 Michael Georgy, “Esraa Abdel-Fattha,”The Independent, January 25, 2016.
 Anya Schiffrin and Eamon Kircher-Allen. From Cairo to Wall Street: Voices From the Global Spring. The New Press, 2012, p. 33.
 Mohammed Ramadan quoted in quoted in Kurt Andersen, “The Protester,” TIME magazine, December 14, 2011.
 Soraya Morayef, “Women in Graffiti,” Midan Masr, August 14, 2016.
 Mona Prince. Revolution is My Name: An Egyptian Woman’s Diary from Eighteen Days in Tahrir. The American University in Cairo Press, 2014, p. 143.
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Reports on women’s revolutionary role in the Middle East http://womensenews.org/story/110222/arab-women-in-revolution-reports-the-ground
Reports on women’s revolutionary role in the Middle East http://womensenews.org/story/110222/arab-women-in-revolution-reports-the-ground
Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International, produced a documentary about women in the Arab Spring.
 Courtney Raddsch, “Unveiling the Revolutionaries: Cyberactivism and the Role of Women in the Arab Uprisings,” Rice University Institute for Public Policy Research Paper, May 17, 2012.
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 Kirsten O’Regan, “Egypt’s Embattled Feminism,” Middle East Eye, 2015.
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 Meredith Weiss and Edward Aspinall, eds. Student Activism in Asia: Between Protest and Powerlessness. University of Minnesota Press, 2012,
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 Yasmin El-Rifae, “What the Egyptian Revolution Can Offer #MeToo,” The Nation, January 22, 2018.
 “Women Driving Positive Change in the Middle East,” Wilson Center, March 8, 2017.
 Orla Guerin, “Crushing Dissent in Egypt,” BBC Our World, February 24, 2018.
 Liz Ford, “Egypt Cour Ruling Upholds Decision to Freqze Assets of Women’s Rights Activists,” The Guardian, January 12, 2017.
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Joseph Charmie, “Women More Educated than Men But Still Paid Less,” Yale Global, March 6, 2014.
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 Amira Hanafi, “A Dictionary of the Revolution,” Ibraaz, September 30, 2016.
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 Shereen El Feki. Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World. Pantheon Books, 2013, p. 6.
Palestinians Organized Muntada: Arab Sexuality Forum
 Hend El-Behary, , “87percent of Egyptian Men Believe Women’s Basic Role is to be Housewives,” The Independent, May 8, 2017.
 Saadia Zahidi. Fifty Million Rising: The New Generation of Working Women Transforming the Muslim World. Nation Books, 2018, p. 237.
 “In the Cradle of Egypt’s Revolution, Women Will No Longer be Silenced,” Egyptian Streets, March 28, 2013.
 Ibid., pp. 86-87.