Egypt: To My Fellow Egyptian Feminists
To my fellow Egyptian feminists -
This is written with love, respect and in solidarity.
I present in this article a brief critique of the contemporary Egyptian feminist movement. I hope that this will be taken as constructive criticism and channeled so as to strengthen the movement.
Nicola Pratt wrote an important article, recently published in the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies’ newsletter. In this article she accused the international community of using an Orientalist narrative in dealing with women’s rights in the Middle East. I couldn’t agree with her more but I would like to add to this argument that we as Egyptian feminists export an Orientalist discourse. We reinforce ideas that victimize all women and deny them their agency, while simultaneously demonizing all men.
Sexual harassment discourse
We seem to be trapped into a sexual harassment narrative, as if we have no other issues that pertain to women’s rights. We don’t link sexual harassment with a global narrative on violence against women in general nor do we link sexual harassment to wider struggles. We seem to be very outspoken about sexual harassment while silent on all other issues that might be more relevant to broader groups of women and men in our society. We keep narrowing down the discourse till it becomes only about sexual harassment against protestors.
Everyone has thoughts on how everyone is doing their job yet everyone is silent about it. Not quite silent - they do speak behind each other’s backs. They vent in small groups in cafes. All that is bottled up comes out in the form of gossip rather than constructive criticism that could revive the movement and save it from itself. The lack of criticism is a criticism in itself!
No reading…No writing
There seems to be a lack of commitment to self-education. There are no groups working on gaining knowledge or producing it, except for a few scholars who write some papers. However, activists seem to have lost interest in reading other feminist work or writing their own theories, even in the mode of Facebook notes. It doesn’t have to be scholarly but you have to have something to say or a different world view to present. You need a stand point from which to challenge reality, and this should be documented somewhere so that others can read it and build on it.
We teach, we don’t learn
Arrogance is a sin and for a good reason. We keep going around the world lecturing, speaking in conferences, going around telling others how to do things. Do we listen as much as we speak? Do we invite others to speak to us about their experiences? Are we even curious? We ask others to stand in solidarity, but do we extend it?
Dealing with authority
We don’t have a clear strategy to deal with authority. Do we talk to the authorities? Do we boycott? Do we strike deals with political parties or not? These are some of many central questions that seem to be answered haphazardly. Recently, I was asked to speak at a hearing in the Shura Council. Asking around, I found out that my fellow feminists refused to go. Nevertheless, they agreed to appear with members of the Shura Council on television. This perplexed me. Are we or aren’t we speaking to those in power? Are we using the media to advance our message or are we being used by the media for sensational news?
“I will support you no matter what” syndrome
We don’t like the way some of us do things but we go anyway. We participate in conferences, workshops, marches and demonstrations that we don’t approve of. I found myself going and criticizing, going and mocking, going and disapproving but always there. Because we have to stand by each other no matter what. But do we really have to?
The events now unfolding are overwhelming. We are running from this meeting to another, then on to this protest and that march. There is often little or no time for reflection. But maybe for the sake of the movement it is time to ask ourselves some serious questions. It’s time to reflect. I hope that this article spurs a conversation in the Egyptian feminist movement.
With much love and respect, and in solidarity.
Dina Wahba, is an Egyptian activist and WLUML West Asia Officer who currently resides in Cairo.