Egypt—The Revolution Will Continue
January 25 marks the anniversary of the onset of protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Here, Hoda Elsadda, an Egyptian women’s rights activist and professor at Cairo University, assesses women’s gains, potential losses and determination to move forward—as evidenced by last month’s 10,000-woman strong protest march.
One year ago, the Egyptian people took to the streets demanding freedom, dignity and social justice. In 18 days full of sacrifice, solidarity and a touch of Egyptian humor, we succeeded in achieving what seemed to be impossible: the overthrow of the dictator, Mubarak. The euphoria of victory last February was palpable, but was soon followed by the sobering realization that you cannot do away with such a corrupt and brutal regime overnight.
One year later, many ask, what are the losses and gains, especially in terms of Egyptian women’s rights? History has shown that revolutions aren’t always very kind to women or marginalized groups. Already, women have seen the signs of potential setbacks. But there are also signs of amazing power and strength.
The current slogan is “the revolution will continue” because the job is not done. We may have deposed Mubarak, but the regime, led by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), is still intact. In the early days of the revolution, the military appeared to side with the people; today the people are against the SCAF and military rule. Why? Because the SCAF is trying to reinstate the old regime and people have lost faith in its ability to transition Egypt to a democratic future.
The situation in Egypt is tense. There is a very deliberate counter-revolutionary campaign propagated by official media channels—television, radio and newspapers—to mobilize public opinion against the revolution and protestors. Protestors in Tahrir Square are being labeled as traitors that follow “foreign agendas.” It is a vicious campaign to try and take us back to before January 25, 2011. With mounting economic problems, unbearable traffic in Cairo, and violent incidences where armed men are killing civilians, counter-revolutionary forces are scapegoating the protestors.
Another way that the ruling SCAF is trying to break the revolution is by targeting prominent human rights activists. The offices of civil society organizations were recently raided by the military. Since the revolution began, 12,000 civilians have been tried and convicted in military courts, and the ones challenging this injustice—human rights organizations—are now being targeted, their staff interrogated and imprisoned.
Lastly, while we have just had our first, relatively speaking, fair parliamentary elections, their results are not representative of the diversity in Egypt. A stark example is that only 1 percent of the elected members are women! Election monitors recorded many irregularities, such as vote selling or parties trying to influence voters while they waited in line to vote. Many of these irregularities could have been avoided; there are laws and regulations to ensure a fair process. But these were not observed, nor enforced by the SCAF who allowed the elections to be chaotic, particularly by enabling religion to be used in campaigning, hence emphasizing religious identity as grounds for determining political representation. The Muslim Brotherhood won approximately 50 percent of votes, the more extreme Islamist Salafis won 25 percent, and all the liberal and leftist parties, including the youth coalitions who triggered the revolution, won the remaining 25 percent.
Of the 498 elected members of the Parliament, only eight are women. We can’t just blame Islamists who didn’t run women candidates; liberal parties also failed to support women candidates. Despite the rule that one woman had to be included on every party’s lists, all of these women appeared at the end of the lists. Because of the proportional system, if eight names are listed, unless your name is in the top three or four, you’re unlikely to be elected. There used to be a quota for women, but quotas became synonymous with the old regime that used women for their own interest. Women’s rights organizations tried to lobby for reinstating the quota system but did not succeed.
Having said that, elections did happen. People had the opportunity to vote, most of them for the first time ever. And the turnout was unprecedented: over 50 percent of eligible voters came to the polls, including a very high percentage of women. The polling stations were divided between men and women, and the women’s lines were long, more than a kilometer in some places. For the first time, women and men felt their voice counted. This is a gain that cannot be taken away easily.
And then there was the truly wonderful and inspiring women’s march on December 20, 2011, bringing together an estimated 10,000 women. For many, this was their first demonstration. Everyone was clear on why we were there: we condemned the brutal violence directed by the SCAF against peaceful protesters, men and women; we refused the violation of women’s bodies with the aim of striking fear in the hearts of the people. The march renewed our spirit at a time when the revolution was going through a low moment. The march proved that people, women in this case, still had the power and stamina to continue fighting. The march also revitalized the women’s movement and injected energy and momentum.
My motto now is that optimism is a national and revolutionary duty. Why is the SCAF committing such brutal violence on the streets for everyone to see, including targeting women? These are all attempts to break our spirit and reinstate fear of authority. In the face of this, it is really important to hold onto hope and our newly found sense of empowerment. The people have found their voices. More than ever before, new spaces of resistance have been created. There is definitely light at the end of the tunnel. And we are here for the long haul.
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