The life of a Muslim sister

The life of a Muslim sister

Nadia is a former Muslim Sister with a gummy smile. She has run out of reasons to show it after the dispersal of the Rabaa al-Adaweya sit-in, which took the lives of 63 of her friends and acquaintances and a part of her that she can only describe by grabbing the air, her head or her chest.

Although she often finds herself in a depressive trance – remembering the overly-friendly girl she befriended during the sit-in who gave her a necklace as she had requested a few days before the dispersal, and how Asmaa el-Beltagy had promised to tell her an exciting secret upon her return to Rabaa – Nadia tries and likes to think that she derives strength from the bloodshed. “The sound of gunshots doesn’t frighten me,” she said, more to herself. This enables her to join the regular student protesters clashes with security forces at Al Azhar University, something many of her friends and relatives can’t do. “They would freak out at the sound of fireworks or any loud noise... and drive around all of Nasr City just to avoid Rabaa,” she added, before admitting that she too has only been there twice since the dispersal and had failed not to sob in front of the Central Security Forces (CSF, the riot-control police) leaning against their black vans outside the mosque on both occasions. But, to be fair, one of the outbursts was aided by a CSF van that followed her home (which is right down the street), matching her pace and discussing her mother on the way, to the great amusement of onlookers.  

Although she frequently gets labelled a Muslim Sister (and suffers for it), Nadia was among those mostly young men and women who left/were kicked out of the Brotherhood shortly after the 2011 uprising for objecting to what they saw as the leadership's deafness to criticism, political opportunism and betrayal of revolutionary goals in alliance with the SCAF. 

That batch, she says, is now divided into two camps. The first camp, to which she belongs, that has seemingly and temporarily returned to the MB out of solidarity and sense of obligation. Others remain resolutely separate. Those who have returned are not always fully accepted and often face accusations of betrayal and abuse, especially if they voice any old or new criticism of the leadership’s actions and how they lead to the state the Brotherhood is currently in.

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The dangers of politics for women

It’s dangerous to be the first”  is the title of a report just published by the NGO Safer World, based on interviews with hundreds of women who are trying to participate in public life in Egypt, Libya and Yemen. According to press release, the report finds that:

..women are seriously worried that states are not responding to their growing security concerns and, in many instances, state security providers are part of the problem. Consultations with over 400 women from a variety of social groups across the three countries found that rising crime, the widespread availability of weapons, and violent conflict between armed groups are major security threats. In addition, women face targeted violence against them, including harassment, sexual assault, threats of violence, and slander. Many perceive the police to be ineffectual and even part of the problem. Threats associated with honour and reputation present a particular challenge for politically active women and are being used by established power-holders as a political tool to side-line women from public life and restrict their opportunities to feed into policy and decision-making.
There are signs that a vicious cycle is in operation where insecurity reduces women’s political participation and low participation in turn means continued insecurity for women as their safety concerns are not taken into consideration by formal and informal authorities.

One of the reasons that Egypt's cultural and political elite advanced for declaring the Muslim Brotherhood beyond the pale was their bigoted views on women's place in society and public life. But the truth is that "liberal" parties and the state marginalize women as well. 

No woman, no drive

Late last month a handful of Saudi women took to their cars to protest the kingdom's ridiculous ban on women driving. As I argue in a column for the New York Times' Latitude blog, the ban is a cornerstone of the country's gender segregation system (in a country that has been built around the automobile, it reduces women's mobility to nil), which in turn is a foundation of the religious establishment's authority -- over both women and men. That's also why Saudi men's support for this challenge is necessary and promising. 

I fantasize of a campaign to pressure US automakers to boycott the Saudi market (the industry's second-largest foreign market) until women there are allowed out of the back seat.