Egypt, Mother of the World

Throughout the Middle East, Egypt is known as “The Mother of the World”: the 6,500-year-old-and-counting birthplace of modern civilization and culture.

Throughout Egypt, and across the Middle East, women—the mothers of the world—are rising up and demanding their voices be heard.

Suddenly, Al Qaeda’s looking a little less menacing—at least outside of its Afghanistan/Pakistan strongholds.

Millions of Arab people—men and women—will now have a say in the way they want their countries to be run. Let’s hope this tidal wave—the Tunisiami—continues.

The way is not yet entirely clear, but the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are a huge step forward for representative democracies throughout the Middle East. Their lessons and their example reverberate and inspire the world. So far, it looks like moderate voices will prevail: after all, peaceful protesters won the battles in Tahrir Square. About a month ago, I wrote about Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution, which kicked things off.  Protests are happening in Algeria, Bahrain, and Yemen. Iran’s government is out in full force today, blocking planned demonstrations there in support of Egypt, but they can’t stifle the reformist Green Movement forever.

I’ve been holding on to this photograph I saw on January 18th in the Financial Times, right after the Tunisian dictator Ben-Ali fled to Saudi Arabia. It’s one of the first photos in the mass media of Arab women protesting since the uprisings began, which is probably why I was so fascinated by it when I first saw it. I can’t find it anywhere online, so this is the original. It’s a bit wrinkled—I apologize—but check it out:

The sign of victory in Tunisia (Financial Times; AFP photo)

I love these women. They are brave, and they are pissed off. Look out! With their western clothing and chic sunglasses, they could be from any city in the world. I’m willing to bet they are also working mothers. They could be my girlfriends—they could be me!

Here are some other images of secular and religious women, Christians and Muslims, hitting the streets. By showing these images, the media—social and traditional—are breaking down stereotypes in the western world of what Middle Eastern women look like, as well as what they can do and be—and achieve. Most of these images are by AFP, AP, and Reuters but all are on Facebook—go here to see more:

fearless, and flawless - part 1

Coptic (Christian) and Muslim women

fearless, and flawless - part 2

let me give you a piece of my damn mind

loud, and proud

tanks for the memories

blood flows (not in vain!) over the Nile

how could you hit this woman?

some color-coordinated protesting

bad-ass Eyptian girl

(my friend Daniel Gerges sent me the above photo 2/15/11)

the smooch heard 'round the world (AP)

Writer, feminist and political activist Nawal El Saadawi recently spoke about what’s next for Egypt, and for the women of Egypt. Here she is, hours before Mubarak stepped down, in an interview by Rebecca Walker for The Root:

TR: Your work has mainly revolved around women’s rights and equality. How are these issues playing out in the revolution? What is the role of women on the ground?

NS: Women and men are in the streets as equals now. We are in the revolution completely. Of course if you know the history of revolutions, you find that after the revolution, often men take over and women’s rights are ignored. In order to keep our rights after the revolution, women must be unified. We must have our women’s union again. We cannot fight individually.

And here she is again, one day after Mubarak’s departure, reinforcing that message in her interview with NPR’s Guy Raz:

RAZ: Tell me what your plans are now. Can you imagine becoming active in the new political process in Egypt that will begin to emerge?

Dr. EL SAADAWI: You know, I look to myself mainly as a creative writer all my life and a medical doctor. I always was active also in the women movement. So now we have a big task coming, because in Tahrir Square, many young women, we sat together and we said that we should start establishing our Egyptian women union, because we need collective power of women to follow up what the revolutionary temporary government will do.

And our demand is that we should have a secular constitution, no discrimination between men and women or Christians and Muslims. So, you know, the idea of real democracy is coming up.

Finally, as something of a postscript to this post, here are two YouTube videos of the protest and freedom movement in Egypt that I wanted to share:

here is the “before” – created during the height of the protests:

this is the “after” – in celebration: