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Sur la dépendance de M. Ibn Salman sur les mercenaires:
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Torture within Quranist Viewpoint (7): The Disbelievers and Their Asking for the Infliction of Torture/Torment of the Hereafter
Desert-Arabs and Self-Defense Fighting during Muhammad's Lifetime
En quête d'un sourire
C-Reforming Muslims
Qur’anic studies
Clash of Civilizations
The Sunnite Religion Contained the Sufi Religion to face the Shiite Religion
"…And do not hold on to ties with fanatic unbelieving women…" (Quran 60:10)
The Quranists as persecuted Muslim scholars
The Visit of the Old Lady!
My Father Is My Problem!
Regarding The Religious Civil Strife among the Muhammadans, The Quran Is the Solution
The Spirit, rituals and politics of Ramadan
About Tangible Miracles and the People of the Book
Wasting the fast of Ramadan
Femnists in Egypt

Feminists in Egypt

Throughout Egypt's long history, there have been many remarkable female leaders who ruled the country for many years, either through their charismatic character, like Hatisbshout during the Pharaohs, or through their intelligent manipulation of other leaders, like Shagrat Al Dur, who ruled and protected the country from the Crusaders' attacks. Another great Feminist in the Egyptian history is Huda Sha'rawie who was the first to fight the Hijab in modern Egyptian history with the help of Safiah Zaghloul, the wife of an Egyptian leader- Sa'ad Zaghlul- who fought against the British Occupation during and after the First World War. In his article, "What happened to Huda Sha'rawie's Granddaughters? The Uncovered, the Lazy, and the Scared" Dr. Saad Eldin Ibarhim confirms that this era was the golden era for the participation of Christian Copts and women in public life in modern Egypt. This movement is as well the first movement that called for uncovering the veil and fought for Women's' rights in all aspects of life, which resulted in new laws that aimed to improve the status of women in social affairs (Ibrahim).
This paper, however; will not deal with the history of the Egyptian Feminists, but rather with the current trends of Feminism in Egypt. The paper will first introduce some facts about women's status in Egypt. This will be followed by introducing two feminists, who resemble two different trends, and their opinions towards different issues. Finally, the paper will end by the writer's own opinion about women in Islam.
The early work of Huda Sha'rawy and her follower began to produce its fruit in the 1970s. Since the early 1970s, women's status has been changing, mostly because an increasing number of women have joined the nonagricultural workforce. The number of working women doubled from 500,000 to 1 million between 1978 and 1980. By 1982 women accounted for 14 percent of all wage-earning and salaried employees throughout the country. Although substantial numbers of women were in the professions, particularly education, engineering, and medicine, most women held low-paying jobs in factories, offices, and service industries. In 1990 women accounted for more than 12 percent of all industrial workers; most female factory workers were in textiles, food processing, and pharmaceuticals (Country Studies).
According to the CIA Fact book 2006 estimates, the life expectancy rate for females is 73.93 years in comparison with 68.77 years for males. As for the literacy rates they are 46.9% for Females and 68.3% for males. Finally, the Infant mortality rate for males is 32.04 deaths/1,000 live births, in contrast with 30.58 deaths/1,000 live births for females (CIA). Believe it or not, those numbers show an image that is brighter than the reality. Discriminatory personal status laws governing marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance have institutionalized the second class status of women in the private realm and undermined their legal standing. According to the violence against women in Egypt report prepared by the OMCT (World Organization against Torture), women do not fully enjoy human rights on an equal footing with men, despite the fact that the Egyptian Constitution provides for equality between men and women and bans discrimination against women. Moreover, OMCT has found that in all areas of life, women suffer from discriminatory practices, due to a number of factors, including the persistence of a traditional male-dominated society. Moreover, there is a state sponsored discrimination against women that is still evident in a number of laws currently in force including personal laws, laws on civil competence, and the penal code. Polygamy is still a legal right for men. In certain circumstances, Egyptian women are unable to vest their nationality in their children (OMCT).
The OMCT carefully welcomed the new personal law that gives women more facilities to obtain a divorce. It feared that the new law s undermined their legal standing. According to the violence against women in Egypt report prepared by the OMCT (World Organization against Torture), women do not fully enjoy human rights on an equal footing with men, despite the fact that the Egyptian Constitution provides for equality between men and women and bans discrimination against women. Moreover, OMCT has found that in all areas of life, women suffer from discriminatory practices, due to a number of factors, including the persistence of a traditional male-dominated society. Moreover, there is a state sponsored discrimination against women that is still evident in a number of laws currently in force including personal laws, laws on civil competence, and the penal code. Polygamy is still a legal right for men. In certain circumstances, Egyptian women are unable to vest their nationality in their children (OMCT).
The OMCT carefully welcomed the new personal law that gives women more facilities to obtain a divorce. It feared that the new law still contains provisions which disadvantage poor women. Women can only get a divorce if they can afford to pay back their dowry, which may be impossible for many women as they are often economically depend on their husband (OMCT).
As one can see, it is not an easy life to lead for women in Egypt, especially in the rural areas. I remember stories about my Mother's Grandmother, who got married at the age of eleven. Because she was under the legal marriage age, her father had another lady attend the wedding ceremonies as the bride, while the real bride was playing in the street with her friends. The Egyptian Feminist movements came as a result such social issues, using political events, like the 1919 revolution.
Because of the religious nature of Egypt, the feminist movements went into two main directions: A very radical Marxist movement that considered Islam, above many other factors, as the main enemy and obstacle against the emancipation of women, while the other trend sided with Islam trying to find a common ground where both-Islam and Feminism- meet. In Her book, Feminists, Islam, and Nation, Margot Badran recognized such relationship between Islam and Feminism. She thinks that Islam negatively affected feminists' ability to advocate and achieve legal reforms. In the same time, Feminist drew on religious texts that advance the status of women in order to make the argument that Islam and Feminism can co-exist. She fears, however; that the growth of the politicized conservative Islam, since the 1970s, would threaten such movements (Badran).
One of the most famous feminists in Egypt is Dr. Nawal Alsa'dawy (1931- ). She resembles the Marxist feminists. In her article, "The Love Searcher" Saw'dawy admits that she was too religious to notice the contradiction between the Constitution, that confirms equality between men and women, and the Islamic Sharia, that considers men a higher class than women (Sa'dawy). Sa'dawy has dealt a lot with the Arab female psyche, which she perceives as difficult and troubled. She has set out to liberate the mind of the Arab woman, her sexuality, as well as legal position. Sa'dawy has been a zealous writer, both of books and of articles. Her writings were for a long time considered dangerous for the society, and she had her works published in Beirut, Lebanon, as these were banished in Egypt.
Recently, when President Hosny Mubarak decided to change the Constitution to allow for a multi-candidate election, she was one of the first thinkers to decide to run for presidency just to encourage other women to do the same. In her proposed program as a potential president she called for a non-centralized government. More important, she called to remove all discriminatory laws and clauses in the Constitution that discriminate on basis of sex, religion, class, party affiliation, or family connections. Moreover, she called for separation between the Mosque and the state. She said:
"All discriminatory laws and clauses in the constitution should be canceled … and hence, religion should be separated from all laws, including personal laws. so it becomes a civil law based on justice, equality between mothers and father, wives an husband in rights and duties" (Sa'dawy).
Just the idea that a woman could rule Egypt caused a hot debate between the Sheikhs. In her article, "I think, thus I can not be a president." Sa'dawy attacks sarcastically those who were against her. Sheikh Tantawy, Al-Azhar University Sheikh, supported such an idea saying that Islam does not discriminate between women and men as long as the nature of each job suits the man or the woman. Many others disagreed arguing that the menstrual cycle period would not let a women be an effective president. Others agreed to the idea as long she does not stay with a man in a room alone, which is considered "Khalowa" (Sa'dawy).
In an interview with Elaph- a famous Arabian newspaper- Nawal Al Sa'dawy discussed many of her political, social, and religious opinions. She saw women's freedom as being when a women becomes a complete human, who carries a complete and an absolute responsibility towards herself first, and the society second. When asked about polygamy she said that the Quran conditioned justice for polygamy and then said that no one would ever be fair, thus one can not marry more than one woman. Moreover, she wondered why she would not marry four men as well? For her, a woman that would agree to be a second or a third wife is not a woman, but rather a slave. When asked about the Hijab, she said that it is for slaves only. As for politicizing religion, she said that God should have nothing to do with politics because no one can disagree with God. One should be able to worship any God one likes, but no religion should be imposed on a state. By making Islam the official religion of Egypt women become a second class citizen, since a man can marry four women, while a women can not marry four men. As for the prophet Mohamed, she denied that claim that Mohamed was the perfect man, and hence one should not follow him in all what he does, especially his mistakes (Sa'dawy).
Iqbal Barakah resembles that other trend of feminists, those who try hard to accommodate both their religious and feminists' ideas. She is the editor in chief of the famous Egyptian magazine, Hawa' (Eve). She wrote many articles and books, such as, "Love at the beginning of Islam," which was chosen as the best book in humanitarian studies during the Egyptian book fare in 1998. Through her column in Hawa' magazine, she called for equality between men and women. In her article, "A Night that is Better than a Thousand Months," (referring to the night of revelation of the Quran to Mohamed) Barakah discusses the notion of equality between men and women in Islam. She quotes the hadith that says all believers are as equal as a comb's teeth. All believers here, she argues, refers to all women as well as men (Barakah). She describes her trend best in her article, "looking back without anger." In this article, Barakah calls to look back at the Islamic heritage with reason. One should not be angry because of the injustices that took place, nor one should look upon the scholars as perfect creatures, who can not make mistake, but rather as pure humans. She said:
"Thus, by this notion, I hope that we all become fundamentalists. By that I mean to learn from our heritage, and know our past. But more important for us is to have the ability by which one can distinguish between the good and the bad (Barakah).
Recently, she wrote a TV show to discuss the flaming idea of the paper marriage, which allows men and women to get married by signing a statement saying they both agree to marry. This marriage became a phenomenon between college and high school students in Egypt. Unlike many feminists, Barakah actually attacked such a marriage accusing it of being a temporary marriage just to have sex. She said that sex should have an official and a religious umbrella (Barakah).
As for the Hijab, Barakah sides with Dr. Sa'dawy saying that the Hijab has nothing to do with Islam. She believes that the Hijab is a continuation of the dark ages. In an interview with Aljazeera channel, she refused to attribute the Hijab to Islam saying that it was first invented during the Ashorian civilization and it passed to Islam overtime. She added that there is no clear evidence that the Hijab is required for women in Islam, but rather it is all based on interpretations of general verses, referring to the modesty verses, which the scholars have failed to have a universal understanding of. As for the Hadiths that orders women to wear the Hijab, she said that these hadiths are weakly attributed to the prophet and no one can confirm its authentication. Moreover, she accused the Hijab of demeaning women because it gives them the feeling that their body is shameful and should be covered, which hinders the women from participating in public life (Barakah).
It is very hard to grow up in Egypt and not to be either extremely religious or extremely cynical of Islam or any other religion. Such a dilemma is faced by many feminists as explained earlier, and it always breaks down to what one holds and cares for the most, either his/her religion or his/her modern beliefs of equality and justice. For me, I believe in absolute equality between men and women, and I believe Islam should support it, but unfortunately this is not the case. It is true that Islam advanced the status of women enormously, and yes here is a notion of equality that both sexes are as important, still one sex is superior to another, as God says in the Holy Quran, Men are the protectors of women, which means that women are a lower class that require protection and caring for. In addition, a male witness equals two female witnesses in Islamic Law. Yet, I still stick with Islam, maybe because I do not abuse the rights that Islam gave me as a man, or simply maybe because I am a man and such laws are actually at my advantage!



















Work Cited

Al Sa'dawy, Nawal, I think, thus I can not be a president, the Civilized Dialogue, www.rezgar.com


Al Sa'dawy, Nawal, in an interview with Elaph, www.Elaph.com


Al Sa'dawy, Nawal, The Love searcher, the Civilized Dialogue, www.rezgar.com


Al Sa'dawy, Nawal, The Program of Nawal Alsa'dawy as a presidential candidate, the Civilized Dialogue, www.rezgar.com


Badran, Margot, Feminists, Islam, and Nation, paperback, 1st edition.


Barakah, Iqbal, In an interview with Aljazeera channel on the Hijab issue.


Barakah, Iqbal, Look back without Anger, Life is a woman column, Hawa' Magazine.


Barakah, Iqbal, Marriage on a paper, TV Show Script, Egyptian public TV.


Barakah, Iqbal, Night Better than a Thousand Months, Life is a woman column, Hawa' Magazine.


CIA, CIA Facts Book-Egypt, 2006


Country studies, Egypt changing, www.Countrystudies.com


Ibrahim, Saad Eldin, "What happened to Huda Sha'rawie's granddaughters? The Uncovered, the Lazy, and the Scared", Middle-East Transparent News, www.metransperent.com.


OMCT, World Organization against Torture, The Violence against Women in Egypt, www.omct.org

The views and opinions of authors whose articles and comments are posted on this site do not necessarily reflect the views of IQC.