When you google the possible variations of these words: Women, Role & Arab Spring, you will be faced with massive numbers of articles, studies and interviews that examine thoroughly women’s involvement in the Arab Spring. The prevalent sentiment of such works revolves around how it’s newsworthy that “Women played an active role during the Arab Spring” or “Women have emerged as key players in the Arab spring”. What I read between lines is: It’s unbelievable to find you among the people who took to the streets! We know you exist in the society, but your participation in the public space had always been limited. We are surprised!
This theme has been widely tackled in both Western and Arab media, and if we can barely accept it from the former, it definitely is not acceptable from the latter. Why? Let’s take Egypt as an example, and allow me to take you to one of history classes that any average educated Egyptian has attended in their early school years. Nearly one century ago, there was a national revolution against the British occupation: what we call in Egypt the “1919 Revolution”. Women’s participation in that revolution is a historical fact that is passed on, generation after generation. In my family, we know by heart the story of how my great-grandmother participated in the protests back then when she was a school student. It was an intense national wave in which everyone in the nation took part. In fact, the emergence of the contemporary Egyptian feminist movement was one of the results of women’s role in that revolution. Women were active participants; this is old news. Now, unless we have a collective memory loss as nation, women’s role in the uprisings that sprouted across the Arab world since late 2010 should not be viewed as something weird or unusual, hence no need to discuss it in that sense to begin with. For this same reason, an interesting audio-visual project “HerStory” (a series of web based video interviews with a wide spectrum of Egyptian women) was established to “document the participation of women in the Egyptian Revolution (…) to remind history!” This is the same history in which our grandparents have extensively documented every aspect of women’s role in 1919 Revolution, but we have completely overlooked this fact, to the extent that we have a stack of studies analyzing why and how women took to the streets in our contemporary revolutions. It seems that history is ever forgetting.