Casting a Stone

Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe cast a stone of judgement in a sweeping indictment of all Egypt through an op-ed titled: “No rights for women; No freedom in a nation”.  With broad strokes he criticizes a country and a movement ending with this final prediction and judgement:

“The Egyptian uprising has inspired flights of excited rhetoric about freedom, reform, and a new beginning for Egypt. But the sickening assault on Logan is a reminder that much of Egypt’s cruelty and corruption had nothing to do with Mubarak or his regime. No nation or culture that subjects half its population to the degradation suffered by women in Egypt and so much of the Arab world can ever hope to rise to greatness.”

Contrast this with the voice of Nawaal el Saadawi, a leading Egyptian feminist who has been both a political prisoner and exiled from Egypt for years under Mubarak’s rule. Nawaal el Saadawi is not so pessimistic as the columnist and one can argue quite substantively that her knowledge of Egypt, Feminism, Women’s Roles, and the current events in Egypt surpass that of Jacoby’s.

“Women and girls are, beside the boys, are in the streets,” El Saadawi says. “We are calling for justice, freedom and equality, and real democracy, and a new constitution where there is no discrimination between men and women, no discrimination between Muslim and Christians, to change the system and to have real democracy.”

That Logan suffered a horrific indefensible act is undeniable; that it would be used as a tool and reason Egypt will never achieve democracy is also wrong. For those who want a more thoughtful response can I urge you to read this roundtable discussion by several young women in Cairo after seeing the movie 678.  I appreciate the honesty voiced at the beginning of the discussion by Kelsy “Sexual harassment happens everywhere, and that’s one thing I took from the movie, that we can’t blame ‘culture.’ This is not Egyptian ‘culture.’ Yes, it happens a lot in Egyptian society, but it’s not something that’s ingrained in the ethnic identity…this is a global thing and it happens everywhere and could happen to anyone.”

I too have lived in Egypt and have had my share of uncomfortable harassment. It isn’t right, and I don’t make light of it. I too have been in tears while walking in my Cairene neighborhood over the sense of vulnerability and shame that come from public harassment and touch.  The answer to the problem does not lie in ceasing to “walk in one’s neighborhood or to work” as Mary Roger’s suggests. In fact, the Egyptian film industry tackled this subject with a film released in January titled 678. Unfortunately Jacoby is either unaware of this film or chooses to ignore it.

With the stone that is cast is the unspoken message that America is free from exploitation and corruption, thus it is “more worthy” of democracy. This is a troubling assumption.  Whenever I turn on my television or pick up a magazine, there are examples of exploitation of women and it seems important to recognize that demeaning of women is far more insidious than inappropriate touch. Consider the perception of  many Muslim women about the way women in the west are treated from my post yesterday Challenging Assumptions. – “The perceived promiscuity, pornography, public indecency and lack of modesty were equal, in the eyes of those interviewed, to a degraded status for women.” If the columnist wants  to talk degradation of women, let’s be fair and not exempt America from this problem and the conversation that should surround the problem.

I’ll end with two statements, one paraphrased from Canonball : “It was reported this week that CBS correspondent Lara Logan “suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating” while in Egypt. Undeniably troubling news, but we must keep two things in mind. First, let’s hope (perhaps naively) that American media can resist sensationalism and avoid blowing this one incident into reports of how Tahrir Square was a place of unequivocal danger for women…As we’ve discussed here before, sexual harassment/assault in Egypt is a complex issue, so let’s hope that the high-profile nature of this incident doesn’t lead to a lot of unfounded generalizations.”

The last is a thoughtful paragraph from an article in Slate by Sarah Topol, that distinctly challenges the op-ed piece cited:  “Perhaps more important than if Tahrir changed men’s minds on harassment, it has obviously changed women’s concept of themselves. The protests empowered a generation of women who saw they could be taken seriously on a political stage that had previously been dominated by men. All of the women I speak to say they will fight harder for their political and gender rights. None of them are staying out of politics anymore.”

Readers – what do you think?  Would love to hear your opinion.