Arab Women Lead the Charge

Emad Mekay

HAVANA TIMES, Feb 11 (IPS) — Asmaa Mahfouz, a 26-year-old Egyptian woman who two weeks ago had only one name, now boasts at least three. These include “A woman worth 100 men”, “The girl who crushed Mubarak” and “The leader of the Egyptian revolution”.

Mahfouz, who began online political activism in 2008, is now credited for launching a video call that sparked the revolution against the autocratic military rule of U.S.-backed President Hosni Mubarak.

Mahfouz is a member of a new lot of Arab women activists who are shedding their typical conservative image to lead or inspire a wave of pro-democracy protests that are reshaping the political future of several countries in the Arab world.

Mahfouz created a video in mid-January

( in which she urged “all young men and women” to leave their computer screens and converge on the streets of Egypt to protest the brutal and corrupt rule of the 82-year old Mubarak.

“I am a woman and I am going out on Jan. 25 and am not afraid of the police,” she said a few days before the unrest broke out. “For the men who brag of their toughness, why exactly are you not joining us to go out and demonstrate?”

Her message reverberated she says, “Beyond the wildest of dreams”.

The 4 minute 30 second video was shared widely by Internet activists and was posted on many blogs and websites. Young people forwarded it on mobile phones – a communications tool that some 65 million Egyptians use. Soon after, the government blocked all mobile phone networks.

“I had hoped Jan. 25 would gather 10,000 people at best, but I later realized after the police force withdrew and collapsed, that our day of protests turned into a popular revolution,” she said on a page created for her by her supporters.

“My family was so worried about me and they told me women are not harsh enough for that kind of confrontation,” Mahfouz said. “They now tell me they are so proud of me. I knew that if I get scared and everybody gets scared, then this country will be lost for good.”

Mahfouz’s words resonated not only in Egypt, but across the region.

“Asmaa’s words were sincere and came out of the heart,” wrote Reem Khalifa, a columnist for the Bahrain newspaper Alwasat. “Her words turned into a tsunami wrecking havoc with despotism, tyranny and injustice.”

Asmaa Mahfouz is among millions of women taking the lead during protests in Egypt and elsewhere in Arab countries.

In Cairo, women with sticks and iron bars in hand were patrolling some of the streets with their male relatives during the days of looting and vandalism that swept the city after the collapse of the Egyptian police force.

Mothers of several people who died in the initial days of the protests have refused to receive condolences or hold funeral ceremonies until the revolution achieves its main goal of ousting the regime of Mubarak.

The mother of Khaled Said, an Internet activist who was beaten to death by police officers in Alexandria last year, joined the protesters in Tahrir and repeatedly urged them not to go home before Mubarak leaves office.

Women have visibly been in the forefront in demonstrations at Tahrir Square and other places – in a society where women traditionally have taken a back seat. Many volunteered to do body searches of other women taking part in the protests – it had become clear that the regime could sneak in weapons to be used against the protesters.

Across the Arab world, women have stepped into the forefront of dangerous anti-regime protests.

In Tunisia, human rights leader and blogger Lina Ben Mehenni was among the first to get word out about the Tunisian protests early in December through her tweets and blogs – despite police threats.

The poor mother of Mohammed Bouazizi, the young street hawker who set himself ablaze starting the Tunisian revolution in mid-December, was also doing her share, calling for change. Her sincere tears and wishes for justice galvanized hundreds of thousands of impatient Tunisians to eventually remove the country’s long time dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. The video of her tears went viral in the Arab world.

In Yemen, another country that has seen major anti-government protests, young woman activist Tawakul Abdel-Salam Karman was leading the charge.

It was 30-year-old Karman’s arrest by President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime that set off days of major street demonstrations that threatened his hold on power. Karman, who is now free, remains one of the country’s most outspoken critics of the regime.

“The Arab world is in revolt against dictatorships,” Magda Adly, of the El Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence in Cairo, told IPS.  “That’s why we see women, Islamist or not Islamist, veiled or not veiled, coming together and leading what’s happening on the ground. This is real equality and we’ll never go back to square one.”

One thought on “Arab Women Lead the Charge

  • While it’s no doubt true that the new technological means of communication have allowed the revolutionary impulse to sweep the arab World — and soon beyond, AFAIC — with a synchronization and speed heretofore difficult to achieve, it is a conceit of the petit-bourgeois Left that these means of communication per se — and those who have mastered them (these petit-bourgeois revolutionists, of course) — ARE the Revolution itself… The Egyptian Revolution, we have to keep in mind, was sparked by the ongoing revolution in Tunisia; and the Tunisian Revolution was sparked by the gut-level response of impoverished workers, having endured decades of oppression and repression, to a seminal event of self-sacrifice by one individual — *on the streets*.

    In fact, the Egyptian Revolution swelled and grew, initially, DESPITE the almost complete turning off of these new technological means of communication by the egyptian state. Forgotten already..? Anyone who believes that this new technology — in the hands of liberals and the petit-bourgeois Left — substitutes itself for the revolutionary self-activity of the working-class, is only setting themselves up for the most nasty of surprises in the process of their own, upcoming revolutionary praxis.

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