Women’s Voices in the Revolutions Sweeping the Middle East

Women’s Voices in the Revolutions Sweeping the Middle East February 21, 2011

Google executive Wael Ghonim became one of the faces of the Egyptian revolution through the Facebook page “We are all Khalid Said,” which was a vital spark to the revolution. But another important spark was a video posted by 26-year-old Asmaa Mahfouz from the April 6 Youth Movement, where she declared that she was going out to Tahrir Square and urged people to join her in saving Egypt.

The spirit of freedom Mahfouz spoke about was symbolized in Tahrir Square, where Egyptian women found an equality and camaraderie that they are hoping will be carried forward in shaping a new Egypt—a hope Mona Seif, Gigi Ibrahim, and Salma El Tarzi express in this article.

In the revolutions currently sweeping the region, women’s voices have been loud and clear, from Amal Mathluthi singing for the Tunisian revolution, to the “bravest girl in Egypt” leading chants against Mubarak, to the journalist and activist Tawakul Karaman’s heading protests in Yemen. Outside the region, R&B artist Ayah added her voice to the single “#Jan25″ in solidarity with the Egyptian people, and journalist Mona El Tahawy appeared on countless media outlets, bringing the world’s attention to the events unfolding in her country, and the ongoing events in Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Iran.

In Libya, where, according to Humans Rights Watch, over 84 people were killed in 3 days, videos were posted on a Facebook page with women from Tripoli urging Libyan women to do their part, one woman reminding them: “To every Libyan woman, this is your day, your pride, your victory over this tyrant…you are half the population…There is no difference between us and Egyptian women, and Tunisian women.”  Another woman sent a message urging people to

“Come out tomorrow and demonstrate and make us proud! Tomorrow is the day of freedom and dignity…To my Libyan sisters, you are up for this task and I know you are up for it. Even if it is with supplying them with some water.”

Meanwhile on BBC Radio, a Libyan woman calling herself “Sara,” stresses the need for more international attention to Libya, where there is no independent media and where the only coverage has come from videos posted on the internet, and on Feb17 voices, a woman from Tripoli has been calling in with updates on the situation on the city in English.

In Libya women have been part of a sit-in in front of the Benghazi courthouse; in Bahrain women have joined men in gathering in Pearl Square; and in Yemen, Karaman continued to lead protests after being detained, all of them holding out for the freedom they witnessed the people of Tunisia and Egypt wrest from those in power.

In Tunisia, Mathluthi sang:

I am those who are free and never fear
I am the secret that will never die
I am the voice of those who would not give in
I am free and my word is free

In Egypt, Mahfouz said:

“As long as you say there is no hope, then there will be no hope, but if you go down and take a stance, then there will be hope.”

Across the region, women are taking a stance in the hope that their countries will be able to follow in the footsteps of Tunisia and Egypt, in overthrowing dictators who has ruled oppressively over the people for decades. Analysts have described this wave of revolutions as a “Post-Islamic” revolution, as a movement propelled by young people on Facebook and Twitter, and as a resurrection of a new kind of Pan-Arabism based on social justice, not empty slogans.

Whatever else this wave of revolutions may signify, it is also a resurrection of women’s voices, and the hope that in an era following the collapse of dictatorships and autocracies, women will be part of creating new and freer societies.

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