Geopolitics

The Hypocrisy Of A Blue Bra: Why New Calls For Egyptian Women’s Rights Ring Hollow

Essay: Soldiers ripping off the shirt and veil of a female demonstrator, and dragging her across Tahrir Square by her hair has set off unprecedented outrage. But there is a deep paradox in the reaction, even in the post-Revolution Arab world -- and even f

Women protesters in Tahrir Square (Al Jazeera English)
Women protesters in Tahrir Square (Al Jazeera English)
Sonja Zekri

CAIRO - The most radical activists want that blue undergarment to become a new symbol of the revolution.

When Egyptian soldiers in Tahrir Square tore a veiled woman's clothes off her back, and stomped on the the unconscious woman's chest and face, her violet-blue bra was revealed for all to see. Now we're hearing: this is the underwear of a heroine. One caricaturist drew the victim covered up by the Egyptian flag and surrounded by naked attackers. The message: Egypt has been shamed. If you make an Egyptian woman suffer, the whole country suffers.

No event of the last ten months in Egypt – not the death of Christian demonstrators, not the conviction of bloggers, not military justice – has brought such immediate, and such sharp criticism from outside Egypt as those images of the soldiers dragging the woman across the asphalt paving by her hair. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of the "systematic degradation" of Egyptian women that "dishonors the revolution" and "disgraces the state and its uniform."

But Egypt too is scandalized. During a protest march on Tahrir Square, women warned that their honor was a "red line." And the ruling military council, once again rendered sensitive to pressure, expressed regrets about "violations' of the "great women of Egypt."

As is so often the case where matters of honor and sexuality are concerned, there is a lot of hypocrisy at play. Many people in the West believe that Islam is in any case notoriously misogynistic and such excesses confirm their belief. Women activists on Tahrir Square express public outrage, but secretly hope that the attack of a veiled woman will bring Islamists out into the streets to demonstrate against the army -- and in so doing give new thrust to women's marches amid dwindling protests. That women on Tahrir Square are routinely groped and intimidated; that they have long complained of harassment; that domestic violence against women is as widespread in Egypt as illiteracy -- in short, that the protection and intactness of Egyptian women is a collective illusion: nobody mentions that.

Shocking "virginity tests'

The military council has virtually done away with quotas for female candidates in the parliamentary elections, and wheels forth one transition cabinet after another in which women play little or no role. For months, the army has been describing male demonstrators as criminals and spies, and female demonstrators as women of easy virtue who must submit to shocking "virginity tests."

In accordance with the rules of a patriarchal society, violence against women is seen in terms of the moral credibility of their husbands, fathers, brothers, who were unable to protect them and whose reputation has thus been damaged. Even all the to-do about the honor of women confirms the basic reality -- woman as property, woman as battleground – in however a backhanded way.

So far, female Arabic revolutionaries have reaped little for themselves from their freedom fight. In Egypt and Tunisia, they have to stand up to the grotesque and inhibited fantasies of radical Islamists. Tawakkul Karman, a Yemenite woman, may have won this year's Nobel peace prize, but the power struggle in her country takes place between tribal chieftains, generals and presidential sons.

The tense relationship between revolution and women is nothing new: the Austrian social democrat Victor Adler used the term "hysterical materialism" in reference to Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin. In the Arabic revolts, women are political material but their rights are not the political aim – often not even in the case of women activists themselves.

In conservative societies, sexual violence not only hurts the psyche, it aims at social annihilation – also when men are the targets of it. The rape of a Cairo minibus driver by police – a video of the crime was then disseminated via mobile phone – kindled rage at state torture that years later helped fuel the downfall of the autocrat that was Hosni Mubarak. Is the scene of a partially nude woman on Tahrir Square really so much worse than other images that have emerged? There are pictures of a soldier jumping up and down on a prone man as if he were a trampoline. Men in uniform beat protesters as if possessed. One soldier urinates on demonstrators. A military advisor says he wishes the protesters were in "Hitler's ovens." Is this more acceptable?

By Egyptian standards, attacks on women cross a line, there's no doubt about that. But is it the decisive line? There are justified doubts that the generals are going to accept the results of the elections. Maybe there will be a putsch, perhaps years of instability. Maybe the economy will collapse. The breaking-up of even minor protests turns into bloody paybacks for critics of the power of the state – the army. If things go badly, more than civil and women's rights will be left by the wayside: so will the salvation of the country.

Ben Ali's Tunisia and Mubarak's Egypt were secular tyrannies with a certain amount of awareness about equality issues. Syria still falls into that category. But for many women that's just not an option anymore. They want more than "women's rights."

Read the original article in German

Photo - Al Jazeera English

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.

[*Danish]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

98

For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.

🇮🇷🎓  IN OTHER NEWS

Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Thoughts on Facebook's new name? Zuckerverse? Tell us how the news look in your corner of the world: Drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ