Why Some Egyptian Women Support Mubarak

Taliban Leader Mullah Omar: Is this Egypt’s future?

 

The democratic populist movement sweeping Islamic Arab countries in the mid-east seems to have popped up like a human tsunami; at a moment’s notice, and without warning.  It has filled autocratic leaders with anxiety from Saudi Arabia to Peking China.  However, contrary to the emerging popular narrative, this movement didn’t suddenly come out of nowhere; just as real tsunamis don’t just suddenly happen.  They are caused by a gradual buildup of powerful tectonic forces beneath the floor of a seemingly calm sea.  This is certainly the case with the massive social eruption we are witnessing in the Arab world today.

Already this movement has swept away a President in Tunisia and a Prime Minister in Lebanon. For the Mubarak regime in Egypt, which has spanned three decades, Judgment Day has also come. The verdict seems fairly unanimous: President Mubarak must go!  While the Obama Administration appears to concur with the verdict it is the sentence that worries them, and what will replace the Mubarak regime causes them deep concern.  As well it should.  And they are not the only ones who are concerned.

Yesterday we saw a demonstration by thoughtful and insightful Egyptian women expressing support for President Mubarak. Unlike those who applaud the chaos that has engulfed their country, these women fear for the future.  And why shouldn’t they?  Look at what has happened to the status of women in other Islamic countries where a secular autocrat backed by the military and secret police was overthrown. The position of women in Iran, who were involved in all aspects of the life of the country under the Shah – a secular autocrat with the best armed military in the Islamic world – plummeted after the Muslim fanatics took over. One distinguished female surgeon burned herself alive in a public square in Teheran to protest the growing oppression of women!

I heard the Doctor’s sister, who wrote a book about the surgeon’s ordeal trying to continue practicing her profession after the Islamic radicals took over, and she told a harrowing tale of life for women under Sharia Law.  The author appeared on WBAI, and the thing that left the strongest impression on me was the passion with which  American Muslim women  – especiall African Americans – denounced her for telling the truth about the lives of women under Sharia Law.  What had disturbed the American Muslims was the author’s contention that the mistreatment of women under Islamic law is rooted in the teachings of the Koran about women, something she elaborates on at lenght in a close reading of the text, and thus their oppression is inevitable wherever religious Muslims are allowed to run a country and make that country’s laws.

The record is irrefutable. When the “Northern Alliance” was formed to oppose the Taliban in Afghanistan, one of its leaders reminisced about seeing his mother and her girlfriends walking around Kabul in miniskirts during the 1960’s and 70’s.  And women were working in all kinds of professions.  When the Taliban took over women were driven from their jobs, banned from the classrooms as students or teachers, confined to their homes and forbidden to leave without male consent.  They were forced to cover themselves in veils, with only slits for their eyes, whenever they were allowed to leave the house.  Those women  who defied the Taliban’s rules were summarily whipped by men with sticks on the streets.

Before the American invasion of Iraq women were more advanced than anywhere in the Arab world.  Under Sadam Hussein there were violations of the rights of the general population, but women were not singled out for oppression and abuse the way they are in the Arab countries where Islamic ideas define gender relations.  In Saudi Arabia, America’s closest ally in the Arab world next to Egypt, women are not even allowed to drive cars!

Considering the fact that when open elections are held in Muslim countries  the Islamic parties are as likely to win as not, participatory popular democracy is a risky business, especially for women.  It is a grab bag where you don’t know what you may get!   By any objective measure the status of women in Iraq, and everywhere else in the world,  has deteriorated dramatically as Islamic groups have become more prominent.  This is why many educated women in the Arab world are worried about what these populist uprisings will ultimately bring.

 

Afghan Women on the Street Under Taliban Rule

What educated Egyptian women fear

 

 

 

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Playthell Benjamin

February 2, 2011

Harlem, New York

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