I 1933 vant en kvinne ved navnet Lotfia El Nadi en flykonkurranse fra Kairo til Alexandria. El Nadi var Egypts første pilot, og fikk heltestatus i landet. Hun inspirerte ikke minst kvinner i kampen deres for rettigheter. Som hun selv sa det: ”Jeg lærte å fly fordi jeg elsker å være fri.” Hun kom heller ikke på noen måte til dekket bord. Faren nektet henne å følge drømmen. Da gikk hun til et flyinstitutt og jobbet gratis i bytte med gratis flytimer. Mange kvinner fulgte i hennes fotspor og ble piloter. Fremmarsjen for kvinner fortsatte under monarkiet frem til 1953 da Gamal Abdel Nasser overtok lederposisjonen, og fremgangen fortsatte også under Nasser: kvinner fikk ledende stillinger ved universitet, de entret parlamentet og fikk sentrale posisjoner i domstolsapparatet.
Den historiske fremgangen står i sterk kontrast til en ny undersøkelse utført av Thomson Reuters Foundation. Egypt rangeres på bunn blant 22 arabiske stater når det gjelder diskriminerende lovverk, seksuell trakassering og den magre politiske representasjonen. Da er spørsmålet: hvorfor lider Loifias kvinnelige barnebarn under problem som hun overvant for 80 år siden?
Det hele startet med oljekrisen i 1973, for oss i Norge ikke minst illustrert av fotoet av Kong Olav i anorakk og med en elghund på trikken på vei til Frognersetra for skitur i marka – på trikk i solidaritet med folket sitt som var pålagt en bilfri helg. I Egypt førte krisen til utvandring til Gulfstater der wahabismen stod sterkt.
After the 1973 war in the Middle East, the price of oil shot up. This gave Gulf states unprecedented power, while the economic shock forced millions of Egyptians to emigrate to work there. Many of these Egyptians came home having absorbed radical Wahhabi values.
Egypt’s tradition of moderate Islam recognized women’s rights and encouraged women to study and work. By contrast, for Wahhabis, a woman’s job is to please her husband and provide offspring. Wahhabi preachers promote female genital mutilation, to control women’s sexuality. A woman must cover her body completely and may not study, work or travel. She cannot even leave the house without her husband’s permission.
Wahhabism has influenced all Islamic societies and movements, including Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. As it spread in Egypt, more women started to wear the hijab, or head scarf. But this did not create a virtuous society; it led to the reverse.
Until the end of the 1970s, many Egyptian women still went without head scarves, wearing modern Western-style dress, yet incidents of sexual harassment were rare. Now, with the spread of the hijab, harassment has taken on epidemic proportions. A 2008 study from the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights revealed that 83 percent of women interviewed had been subjected to sexual harassment at least once, and that 50 percent experienced it on a daily basis.
Why is it that men did not harass Egyptian women when they wore short skirts but that sexual harassment has increased against women in head scarves? When ultraconservative doctrine dehumanizes women, reducing them to objects, it legitimizes acts of sexual aggression against them.
The Mubarak regime had various differences with the followers of political Islam, but the two camps converged in their contempt toward women. In spite of some formal reforms instigated by Suzanne Mubarak, who wanted to appear as an enlightened first lady, the Mubarak era witnessed a deterioration in women’s rights.
Even so, it was not until 2005 that sexual harassment became an organized form of retribution against Egyptian women who took part in anti-Mubarak demonstrations. The security apparatus paid thugs, known as “beltagiya,” to gang up on a woman attending a demonstration, tear off her clothes and molest her. This sexualized form of punishment continued through the period of the military regime and into the Brotherhood’s rule.
On Dec. 17, 2011, during a demonstration against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces near Tahrir Square in Cairo, soldiers pulled a female protester’s clothes off and dragged her along the ground, stomping on her with their boots. A video of the attack went viral, eliciting the sympathy of millions. Solidarity committees were formed, and the victim of the attack became an icon for Egyptian women. But the Islamists, at that time allied with the council, mocked the victim, blaming her for not staying in the home — as was seemly for a respectable woman.
During the revolution, millions of Egyptian women went out and bravely faced snipers’ bullets, but those who gained power played down their bravery and attempted to sideline them. After the 2012 election that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power, there were only 10 female members of Parliament out of a total of 508. President Mohamed Morsi’s later attempt to rewrite the Egyptian Constitution would also have removed the only female judge on the Supreme Constitutional Court.
In short, the Islamists strove to eradicate the gains Egyptian women had made. They tried to overturn the law punishing doctors who carried out female genital mutilation, and refused to consider the marriage of minors as a form of human trafficking by claiming that Islam permitted a girl as young as 10 years old to be married.
Women’s rights are a bellwether of the current conflict in Egypt. The revolutionaries are fighting for equality, whereas the reactionary forces of both the Brotherhood and the Mubarak regime are trying to strip women of their political and social rights and make them subject to men’s authority.
The conflict will eventually be resolved in favor of women because the revolution represents a future that no one can prevent. In 2002, Lotfia El Nadi died at age 95. Shortly before her death, she said: “I don’t recognize Egypt as it is now, but the Egypt I knew will return. I am certain of that.”
New York Times: Egypt’s Trouble With Women