The Arab Spring has gotten off to a bloody start in 2012 with clashes in Syria increasingly getting more violent amidst allegations of massacres. Two weeks ago, ongoing violence between the military and civilian populations in Egypt triggered women in Cairo to mobilise around aggression that began to specially target women.
The horrifying images of just how brutal the military can be towards women went viral. The video showing military police dragging a woman wearing a hijab through the street, beating her senseless, then stomping on her stomach, her bright blue bra exposed as she lay motionless on the street defines the struggle of the Egyptian people. Protesters held up signs with her images, chanting warnings such as, “This is the army that is protecting us!”
Several hundred women kicked off a ‘Million Woman’ march to expose the military’s sexual violence against female demonstrators. Protesters held up pictures of women, elderly people and teenagers who had been beaten up by the police, demanding a regime change. Many men even formed a protective circle around female marchers so that they would not be assaulted.
Their efforts to raise awareness of what was happening to civilians on the ground in Egypt, as the country struggles to cultivate a post-Mubarak era, prompted condemnations from the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, until the Egyptian military finally accepted responsibility and apologised.
There is a reason why Time Magazine picked the protester as its Person of the Year, and there is a reason why that image is that of a woman. Since the Arab Spring, it has been women, from Iran to Saudi Arabia to Egypt, who have not only been on the frontlines of the protests, demanding more rights, but also shaping their country’s revolutions.
The problem is not with getting women on the streets during these times of passionate protests, but keeping them there. It is after the euphoria fades, after the dictator is placed in custody when the political blueprint of a country is being determined that women are nowhere to be heard.
We repeatedly see this. From Bangladesh’s War of Independence, to Iran in 1979, to Libya, and all over the Middle East today, where are the women when it comes to forming the new government? What Egyptian women are showing us today is truly revolutionary because they are refusing to be sidelined in determining the future of their country. They were and are a part of Egypt’s revolution. Social media and the Internet are women’s weapons to ensure their voices will not be silenced.
If the image of the woman in her blue bra being stomped senseless on the streets of Cairo shows us anything it is that this revolution is being televised, and the world is watching. Egyptian women are showing us that without women, and without women’s rights, no country can become a real democracy.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 12th, 2012.