Any views expressed in this piece are those of the author and not of Aswat Masriya.
By Dina Wahba
This is written with love, respect and in solidarity.
I present in this article a brief critique of the contemporary Egyptian feminist movement. I hope that this would be considered constructive criticism and channeled in a way that would strengthen the movement.
Nicola Pratt wrote an important article published in Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies newsletter. In this article she accused the international community of using an Orientalist narrative in dealing with women’s rights in the Middle East. I couldn’t agree more with her but I would like to add to this argument that we as Egyptian feminists export an Orientalist discourse. We reinforce ideas that victimizes all women and denies them their agency as well demonize all men.
Sexual harassment discourse
We seem to be trapped into the sexual harassment narrative. As if we have no other issue pertaining to women’s rights. We don’t link sexual harassment with the global narrative pertaining to violence against women in general nor do we link sexual harassment to wider struggles. We seem to be very outspoken about sexual harassment while silent on all other issues that could be more relevant to greater groups of women and men in our society. We keep narrowing down the discourse till it became only about sexual harassment against protestors.
Everyone has comments on how everyone is doing their job yet everyone is silent about it. Not quite silent they speak behind each other’s backs. They vent out in small groups in cafes. All that is bottled up comes out in the form of gossip rather than constructive criticism that could revive the movement and save it from itself. The lack of criticism is a criticism in itself!
No reading or writing
There seem to be a lack of commitment to self education. There are no groups working on gaining knowledge or producing it except for some scholars who write some papers. However, activists seem to have lost interest in reading other feminist work or writing their own theories even if in Facebook notes. It doesn’t have to be scholarly but you have to have something to say. A different world view to present. A stand point from which you challenge reality and it should be documented somewhere so that others could read it and build on it.
We teach, we don’t learn
Arrogance is a sin and for a good reason. We keep going around the world lecturing, speaking in conferences, going around telling others how to do things. Do we listen as much? Do we invite others to speak to us about their experiences? Are we even curious? We ask others to stand in solidarity, do we extend it?
Dealing with authority
We don’t have a clear strategy to deal with authority. Do we talk to them? Do we boycott? Do we strike deals with political parties or not? Many central questions that seem to be answered haphazardly. Recently, I was asked to speak at a hearing in the Shura Council. Asking around, I found out that my fellow feminists refused to go. Nevertheless, they agreed to appear with members of the Shura Council on Television. This perplexed me. Are we or aren’t we speaking to those in power? Are we using the media to advance our message or are we being used by the media for sensational news?
“I will support you no matter what” syndrome
We don’t like the way some of us do things but we go anyway. We participate in conferences, workshops, marches and demonstrations that we don’t approve of. I found myself going and criticizing, going and mocking, going and disapproving but always there. Because we have to stand by each other no matter, do we really have to?
The events are overwhelming. We are running from this meeting to another to this protest and that march. There is often little or no time for reflection. But maybe for the sake of the movement it’s time to ask ourselves some serious questions. It’s time to reflect. I hope that this article spurs a conversation in the Egyptian feminist movement.
With all the love, respect and in solidarity.