Sisterhood Blog

The Women of Tahir Square

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images
Women celebrate Mubarak’s resignation in Cairo’s Tahir Square.

Any woman who has spent time in Arab countries was likely to have been particularly impressed by the strong presence of women in the Egypt’s Tahrir Square protests. Whether it is Cairo or any other Arab city, walking around unaccompanied in public is not always a comfortable experience.

But the spirit of fellowship and common cause seemed to have united those who gathered to throw off the reigns of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. And the diverse array of women in the square not only looked as if they were at home, they appeared to be at the center of the action. An Indian television station took a close half-hour look at the women of the Egyptian revolution in a short documentary called “The Women of Tahrir Square.”

The film brings the camera into the crowds, capturing pictures of women of all ages, from teens to mothers with children and babies, from those tented in long black robes, to those wearing colorful headscarves to those in thoroughly modern Western attire. The monitors in charge of checking those who entered the square for weapons were women.

The documentary also features in-depth interviews with a few women taking active roles in the movement and asking them some probing questions about what life will be like for women in the new Egypt. Ahdaf Souief, a prominent novelist firmly rejects the “doomsday notion” that the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak will lead to increased power in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that the Brotherhood would then push for sharia-based law and increased restrictions on women. Souief said:

We will take our chances. We are really tired of people from outside telling us how to live our lives and organize our society. Women are a part of every social movement that happens in Egypt, or in the Muslim world. There is this portrayal of Egyptian women, of Arab women, as miserable, downtrodden, or whatever. A great many of the Western media outlets have come to us with specific questions of what will happen to women’s rights if this movement succeeds. We say things can only get better.

Indeed, there is an argument to be made that despite its modern face, Egypt under Mubarak has not been an ideal society for women. The difficult economic situation has weighed on women’s lives, women’s rights organizations, like all other political organizations have been as rigidly controlled by the state, and the rate of female political participation has been extremely low. So throwing off the Mubarak regime feels liberating for Egyptian women, with an accompanying sense of empowerment stemming from their active role in the revolution and the unique atmosphere in Tahrir Square. Sarah Topol, reporting for Slate from the Square noted:

Egypt has a sexual harassment problem. In a 2008 study, 86 percent of women said they had been harassed on Egypt’s streets—any woman walking through a crowd of men in Egypt braces to get groped. But in the square, crammed in shoulder-to-shoulder, men apologized if they so much as bumped into you. After wandering around the protests for days, it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t been groped, a constant annoyance when I’m faced with large crowds in Cairo. When I pointed this out to other women in the square, we all took a moment to reflect. “I hadn’t even thought of that,” one woman in Tahrir told me. “But it’s because we’re all so focused on one goal, we’re a family here.”

Will the euphoria last? Skeptics would be quick to point out that women were equally as active and visible in the anti-Shah Iranian revolution in 1979. They were inspired, in part, by their dreams of democracy, equality and economic justice — only to see those hopes crushed by the hard-line regime of the Ayatollahs.

Here’s hoping the story of the brave Egyptian women of Tahrir Square has a much happier ending.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Tahir Square, Egypt, Democracy, Cairo



Find us on Facebook!
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.