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Middle East

Female emancipation in Egypt 'can only come from Egyptian women'

© Thomas Coex, AFP | Egyptian women walking along a Cairo street, April 2017.

Text by Ségolène ALLEMANDOU

Latest update : 2017-12-18

With one woman sentenced to two years in prison because of a song, and another given three years for talking about extramarital pregnancy on TV, the crackdown on female activists in Egypt continues. Egyptian writer Mona Eltahaway talks to FRANCE 24.

Lock them up to shut them up: that seems to be the Egyptian government’s approach. Last week, the 21-year-old singer Shyma was sentenced to two years in prison for “harming public morality”. In a clip of one of her songs, her appearance was deemed to be overly suggestive. Meanwhile, in early November, Doaa Salah, host of the talk show “Dody Show”, was sentenced to three years in prison for talking about pregnancy outside of marriage.

Slowly but surely, the Egyptian government’s crackdown on civil society – in particular female activists – grinds on. Meanwhile, local NGOs are struggling to sound the alarm since they were banned last April from publishing studies and polls without the authorities’ approval.

Nevertheless, feminist voices are still being heard. One such voice is that of Mona Eltahawy, a writer with strong commitment to political causes, who has revealed that she was sexually assaulted in Cairo in 2011. Now dividing her time between the Egyptian capital and New York, she gave us her take on her country’s current government, which she sees as “the antithesis of feminism”.

FRANCE 24: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared 2017 as the year of women. But in fact the repression of Egyptian women is stronger than ever before. What do you make of that?

Everything Sisi says is hypocritical! You’ve got to remember that – above all – he’s a military man, and therefore the antithesis of feminism. You should also remember that during the revolution, when there was a huge wave of sexual assaults at Tahrir Square, Sisi was on the panel of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (2011-2012), before becoming head of the military (2012-14).

One thing is certain: women’s rights can’t advance in Egypt as long as the military, dictators, religious fundamentalists or the Muslim Brotherhood remain in power. Emancipation can only come from the Egyptian feminists and the Egyptian women who fight for their rights on a daily basis.

FRANCE 24: Does the new 2014 constitution give women more rights?

The text calls for more freedom of expression and freedom of religion … that all sounds dreamy but ultimately we can see that it’s just words on a page. None of these basic freedoms are respected on a daily basis – and that will be the case as long as a military or religious regime is in power. That’s why the singer and the journalist are in prison. And we should also remember that the biggest ever wave of violence against gays in Egypt took place last October.

The state relies on three pillars of misogyny: the state itself, the street, and the home. That’s how it distracts the country from the mismanagement of its economy. Egyptians live in terrible conditions; they can scarcely afford basic necessities. But misogyny is also a way to distract people from the disastrous security situation – for example, the Sinai mosque attack last month.

FRANCE 24: So were all the freedoms gained in the 2011 uprising, in which women played a big role, just a blip?

What happened then was similar to what happened in the French and Algerian revolutions: women rebelled against oppression alongside men, risking their lives for a better society. But as soon as women started getting a bit of what they wanted, the men sent them back to the kitchen. This has got to end. As long as Egyptian women are not free, Egyptian society will not be free.

FRANCE 24: And all this happens while the international community looks on indifferently …

It’s pure hypocrisy from Egypt’s Western allies. Whether it’s France, the US, the UK, Germany or others, all they want is to do business with Egypt, including selling arms. In exchange, Sisi promises them peace and stability. But the worst thing is that there’s nothing new in this situation. Egypt’s best friends were doing the same with former leaders like Hosni Mubarak and Mohammed Morsi. We should remember that dictatorships can’t bring stability.

This article was adapted from the original in French

Date created : 2017-12-18


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