Socialist Worker

Egypt: women in the revolution

by Gigi Ibrahim
Issue No. 2243

Discrimination against women and sexual harassment has been entrenched in mainstream Egyptian culture. It’s treated as a joke. Everywhere we go we face verbal harassment.

It would happen as I walked to the supermarket or travelled to college. All women, whatever their age, whatever they wear, have experienced this.

But from the beginning of the revolution, and throughout the 18 days I spent in Tahrir Square, I did not face sexual harassment once.

There were thousands of us sleeping in tents, alongside strangers. Yet it was like we were all friends and family.

I felt completely safe.

We shared food and water—we respected each other. It felt totally different from before.

And, when you looked at those around you in Tahrir, there were people from all walks of life—poor, middle class, men, women, covered and uncovered, Muslim and Christian.

Together, we called out for demands that united the whole movement.

During the revolution women played a role equal to men—in fact, we played a pivotal role.

Women were part of all the day-to-day organisation in Tahrir. We marched and fought the police, we faced tear gas and bullets. I got hit with a rubber bullet in my back.

The day Mubarak’s thugs attacked us while riding camels and horses was a terrible moment.

But many women took part in the battle to defend Tahrir and the revolution. Some helped treat the injured in makeshift hospitals, others acted as messengers between the entrances to the square and to warn protesters about where attacks were coming from.

Other women took a more direct role in beating off the thugs. They ripped up paving stones, chiselling them into rocks to throw back at the thugs with Molotov cocktails and machine guns.

It was a war.

Active

This is not the first time that Egyptian women have been politically active. In the strikes and protests that took place in the years leading up to the revolution we played a key role—including leading some of the strikes.

Women were arrested and beaten by the police just like the men.

Nevertheless, there are some divisions in society that are so entrenched that it is not easy to overcome them. Even in so-called advanced countries, like the US and Britain, women are not equal.

In Egypt, because we have lived under an authoritarian regime that encouraged that divide for so long, it has been even harder to challenge.

The revolution shows how much can change when people organise collectively. But the struggle for equality is far from over.

On International Women’s Day, a group of men came and chanted “The people demand the removal of women” at demonstrators in Tahrir Square. Many believe that these men were part of state security.

Since the start of the revolution, undercover police have been using any opportunity to try to break the unity of the movement and set us against each other.

Even if the men were not state security in many ways such an incident is not surprising.

It is a reminder that there are still many people in Egypt who have not been through the experience of Tahrir, of fighting and organising together. It is the experience of struggle that changes people.

The attack on the women’s protest reflects ideas about women that are deeply ingrained in the state.

For example, the interim committee that is looking at a new constitution does not have any women on it.

It will take more than 18 days to end the oppression of women in Egypt. But we are not going back. We can fight for and win our own liberation.

The revolution is a process that continues every day with new strikes and protests.

We need to continue the struggle, and make sure women continue in its frontline.

Gigi Ibrahim is a revolutionary socialist in Cairo


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Tue 15 Mar 2011, 18:46 GMT
Issue No. 2243
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