Friday, August 05, 2005
I am currently reading this book, "The Battle of the Egyptian Woman to Exit the Harem Era". The book is a compilation of essays on women rights written between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.
The good thing about this book is that the compiler added essays that convey both views and arguments. At least half of the essays were written by women activists and male intellectuals who argued for the right of Egyptian women to have access to education, to enjoy political rights, and to be able to take off the hijab or the all inclusive veil that Egyptian women used to wear back then. This hijab covered the entire body and the face and it was not like the head cover that they wear today.
The other camp were the rejectionists, those who argued that women cannot be equated with men and so they are naturally not entitled to obtain what men have. They also stated that women cannot imitate their European counterparts by going out with an uncovered face and hair because that would "contradict our traditions and religious values." Ironically, a number of the essayists who argued against women rights were women themselves! Do the female Iraqi members of parliament who are calling for the implementation of the outdated Sharia Law ring a bell?? In addition, this camp often used religious tones in presenting their counter arguments stating that giving "Western style" freedom to women and allowing them to abandon the veil run against "our religious values." Doesn't that sound like medieval Europe when the religious establishment stifled any attempt of reform and innovation?
The most amazing thing about this book is that it gave me a glimpse into the issues that people were discussing during this period and then, judging by what happened back then, I managed to see who actually won the debate. It is clear from history that the pro-women rights camp had the loudest voice and the greater influence on the Egyptian public. Those women activists, intellectuals, and the religious leaders who supported their views won the debate and Egyptian women started getting an education in schools and gradually became involved in politics in later years. In addition, the veil totally vanished at least within Egypt's top and middle classes. They beat those who wanted women enslaved and they also defeated Al Azhar (the world's largest Sunni Institute) that had and still has a habit of persecuting and demonizing anyone who calls for reform within Islam's worldly laws.
It is sad that things turned upside down these days. Today, the "non-reformers" and those who are driving us backwards have the upper hand and the loudest mouth. They control the religious satellite stations and the rhetoric today. Egypt's intellectuals, artists, free thinkers, and religious reformers who were alive and well back in the first half of this century are almost no where to be found today. Even if we still do have a number of them, I simply cannot hear their voices very well, the noise around them is too loud.
Readers of this blog know that I have always been a critic of how Israel carries out its military actions in the Palestinian territories. However, I cannot help but comment on the irony here:
When a Palestinian intentionally kills Israeli civilians, the Palestinians and the rest of the Arabs call him a martyr on his way to meeting a happy God.
When an Israeli Jew intentionally kills Israeli Arab civilians, the Israeli government calls him "a bloodthirsty terrorist."
Why can't we all treat civilians as red lines that cannot be crossed?
Sex in Egypt
A very interesting article on sexuality in Egypt by the BBC. I also tend to believe that premarital sex is a rising phenomena here especially in the big cities. You will find everything in Egypt, whether on or under the surface.