Since Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia this past December, the Arab world has been ablaze. The latest events in Egypt have brought to the fore many questions and much analysis regarding individual actions in Arabic countries and how these affect the community.
When watching the news or reading the papers, where so many men are mingling in the streets in Egypt or, recently, Algeria, still only a few women are visible. Yet their presence is important, their actions and their rights can’t get lost in the shuffle.
Two articles appearing in two different papers, both in the op ed pages, have brought to light this reflection. One article is from The New York Times, February 2, 2011–Watching Thugs With Razors and Clubs at Tahrir Square by Nicholas D. Kristof. What he remarks on of special significance is how two women stand up to some of the pro-Mubarak thugs sent in to stomp down the protesters. Kristof was impressed by how these women, two sisters, stood their ground, determined to continue their journey to Tahrir Square, where they could also lift their voice. The journalist’s question, arising from his encounter with the women and his witnessing of the clashes between protesters and government supporters, is if these women, “armed only with their principles, can stand up to Mr. Mubarak’s thuggery, can’t we all do the same?” Indeed. The two sisters are sisters not only to each other, but to women and men around the world with the courage and determination to stand up for their own rights and needs and those of their fellow citizens. They are family to all those who believe in the freedom to choose how to live in our countries, not to be cowed down by force.
Another article, in the English-language version of El País, and from the same date (2/2/2011), is written by one of Spain’s most significant contemporary writers and thinkers, Juan Goytisolo, who has lived the past twenty years in the Maghreb, in Morocco. Titled Believe It or Not, the article discusses how a retrograde form of Islam has been expanding throughout the Arab world, through the dismantling of secular educational systems and the revival of “anachronistic customs and dogmas.” This has in part been responsible for forming a youth that is not prepared for work in the contemporary world: “The contrast between the astronomic military budgets (where there is oil) of the region’s regimes and the mediocre educational levels of the younger generations is striking. The young perform poorly in the hard sciences, and are utterly ignorant in the (proscribed) humanities.” This has of course created a culture that is easily manipulated, and thoroughly impoverished in every way. Lighting a fire again in these communities, and from within, seems to be a necessary choice by members of the society who recognize that their people must be enlightened again and must be given choice in their lives and greater possibilities through education and work, pushing back against repressive systems. He writes: “Events since the Twin Towers attack point to a new time of turbulence. The wave of suicide attacks against Christian communities living in Iraq and Egypt since before the time of Islam reveal to what point the regression in civic and educational values in these countries constitutes an obstacle to their acceptance of universal standards of human rights, particularly those of women.” Goytisolo’s point is that the communities must recognize this repression and revolt against it, take responsibility for their right to be a part of the modern world–starting with the basic rights of dignity and work. And that the whole of the community, from all of its youth, to its women, must benefit.