Al-Ahram Weekly Online   25 October - 31 November 2012
Issue No. 1120
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The autumn of Arab women

Now that Islamists are in power in several Arab countries and gaining ground in others, a lot of people are worried about women's rights. In this part of the world, women have been easy prey, their rights squandered by despotic rulers as well as their ultra-religious adversaries.

Democracy was not only scorned by the corrupt entourage of despots, but by the political Islamists who only joined the democratic game for self-serving reasons. Now they are trying to substitute the despotic agenda of their predecessors with a similar one of their own, albeit one with a religious twist.

Islamists have made a habit of intimidating their opponents. Unless you allow them to have monopoly on truth, you're an apostate or worse. Of all the religious interpretations that were produced over the centuries, they select the most inane, then they call it the word of God, and woe betide anyone who challenges their views.

The basic tenet of Islam is that no one is infallible, not an imam, a ruler or a scholar. And yet political Islamists act on the assumption that they alone are infallible, and everyone else -- especially women -- are not worth listening to.

In ancient tribal warfare, women were part of the spoils of war, a prize to the victor to take back home. This concept may seem anachronistic today, but there is something in the thinking of political Islamists that smacks of this idea that women are just a commodity, to be kept under lock and key until their masters decide how to use them.

The idea that women are commodities is not confined to political Islamists now in power; it is an integral part of the morality of authoritarian Arab regimes, even those who claim to be modern.

Political Islamists view elections as a type of battle, one to be fought with deceit, and one that has the usual spoils of war -- power, money and women.

The Islamists will be disappointed, for what the Arab Spring brought about exceeds the archaic formulas of the past -- those with the Islamists and the tyrants sharing power, those with the army and the Islamists sharing power. Meanwhile, the Islamists think that their election victories are a form of divine justice (Ghannouchi and others made such claims in a seminar about Islamists and the Arab Spring).

The ousted regimes said similar things in the past. Gaddafi claimed that his people could not depose him, for he was a leader and not an elected official.

In this part of the world, we're used to the argument that the leader has fantastic vision, but is being corrupted in practice by those who surround him. We are starting to hear the same argument about Islamists, whose vision -- what else? -- is holier than thou.

Such arguments are not going to survive the momentum that the Arab Spring has brought about. President Morsi may try to grab the powers president Mubarak once had, and then some. He may try to shape the country's future with regards to the law and the constitution, but it is already too late. It didn't work in Tunisia and it's not going to work here.

The Islamists cannot rely on the ultra-conservative Salafis to scare everyone else. In fact, because the Islamists are in power, they are required to rein in the Salafi extremists. And even when they are not in power, they have to do the right thing and denounce any transgressions the extremists may engage in.

Women were part of the revolution and -- veiled or unveiled -- will remain so. Women have every right to reap the fruits of their struggle against dictatorship. They will not be cowed by dictatorial and authoritarian regimes, Islamist or non-Islamist. And they cannot allow anyone to throw them back into the Middle Ages.

The National Council of Women has rejected the provisions on women in the draft constitution. We must listen to them and listen carefully. This is the Arab Spring. And it applies to all of us, men and women. It's not spring for men and autumn for women.

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