Not long ago in Cairo, ironically on Egypt’s National Women’s Day, a young Egyptian woman, Mervat Moussa, was slapped to the ground by a member of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood. What had she done to inspire such hatred and violence?
She was peacefully demonstrating against the Brotherhood’s oppression of rational and respectful debate, as well as their acts of alienation toward other political parties.
Ms. Moussa is not a radical liberal woman who is publicly demanding sexual freedom. She is a quiet and conservative Muslim who strongly believes in the power of respectful debate and tolerance for others’ beliefs. Her mistake was to stay to try and shield Ahmed Douma, an Egyptian activist and blogger who was being beaten for his role in the protest. (He was later sentenced to six months in jail for verbally insulting the President while his attackers were praised)
The video of Ms. Moussa has been shared on Social Media around the world, sparking outrage and engendering the very debate the Muslim Brotherhood hoped to quash.
Shortly after the incident, officials from the Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement defending their violent actions, justifying it by explaining that the demonstrators were insulting and cursing at them.
Only a few days prior, the United Nations had issued a declaration calling for an end to all forms of violence toward women. The Muslim Brotherhood responded to this by stating it would ‘lead to complete disintegration of society if ratified’. Is this indicative of fear on their part? Fear of losing their control, their power? Ms. Moussa believes this to be so, according to an interview shortly after the incident with Al-Masry Al-Youm, a reporter for the Egypt Independent.
It has been reported that the Brotherhood thinks it is acceptable for a husband to rape his wife because it is his ‘right’. Domestic violence is condoned because they feel women must be ‘controlled’. They assert that a wife must have her husband’s permission to travel, visit friends, attend school, or use any form of contraception – essentially she must obtain his permission to do almost anything, putting her squarely into the role of ‘property’. Women in this society no longer own their bodies.
According to a survey of 336 gender experts in 22 Middle Eastern countries, Egypt ranks worst. Survey questions were based on the ‘U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women’ at the end of summer, 2013. Questions posed to the experts ranged from the role of women in business and politics to reproductive rights and violence against women.
The results of the survey were staggering: 99.3 percent of women and girls living under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood are subject to sexual harassment. Over 27 million women have been victims of genital cutting. Human trafficking is on the rise, and new laws are being passed which discriminate against women.
While the Thomas Reuters Foundation, who conducted the poll, cautions that the answers are based on the participants’ perception it doesn’t seem likely that the numbers would vary much in any objective survey. (If you’d like to read the actual poll results, you can access them here http://www.trust.org/spotlight/poll-womens-rights-in-the-arab-world/ )
So where do Egyptian women go from here? What can be done about the atrocities committed by the Muslim Brotherhood? Is it possible to slowly change their perception so that women are treated equally?
Nesreen Salem, a doctoral student and women’s rights author at University of Essex, speaks with a powerful and painfully truthful voice when she says “We are breaking boundaries, taboos, stigmas and reaching for horizons we were only allowed to read about in books. We have given up on everything but this revolution, which we will fight for with infinite passion till our last breath. Our dream of gender equality, human dignity, bread, freedom and social justice may feel distant sometimes, and perhaps we will not see them in our lifetimes, but we are determined that our children and their children and their children’s children will live that dream. And we will make it happen.” Her blog will leave you feeling raw and breathless – and thinking about our sisters in the Middle East long after you are finished reading: (http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/10/01/on-egyptian-women-after-the-arab-spring/)
What will it take to change the contemptuous attitude toward women in Egypt and begin to afford them the same rights, respect and privileges as men? Not only must women all over the world stand together and make it clear this is unacceptable, but men who have largely remained mute while atrocities are committed against their mothers, sisters and daughters must let their voices be heard. To allow women to be treated as property undermines and erodes a civilized society by anyone’s definition.