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Egyptian Women: Brave in Brutal Times

Egyptian women protest in Cairo, December 20, 2011.

Photo: Getty Images

Egyptian women protest in Cairo, December 20, 2011.

Before, during and after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, women have been the focus of the protracted conflict in Egypt between grassroots protesters and the military regime. First it was the attack on CBS reporter Lara Logan, then the so-called ‘virginity checks’ on women protesters detained by the Egyptian army. And this past week the world was shocked by to the horrific photographs of female demonstrators being beaten with metal poles, kicked and stepped on and then discarded like garbage. What galvanized world opinion was one photograph that will become iconic, of the demonstrator whose black robe was ripped from her body, laid prostrate on the ground with her blue bra exposed. Max Fisher wrote in The Atlantic that:

Adding insult to injury, the military has repeatedly justified brutal and sexually aggressive treatment of female protesters by calling them immoral and accusing them of being loose women at best, and prostitutes at worst.

Impressively, Egyptian women seem to be stronger than the pressure being applied to them. On Tuesday they showed that they wouldn’t be intimidated by the beatings and the threat of bodily harm, and hundreds turned out for what is being called the largest all-female demonstration ever to be held in the country.

It seems to me that Egyptian women are between a rock and a hard place. On one side are the brutal forces of military dictatorship clinging to power. On the other is a gentler, but still frightening form of oppression that looms in the aftermath of the first round of elections that were recently held in the country, which handed a decisive victory to the Islamists: both the Muslim Brotherhood and the extreme Salafists. The Salafists immediately began speaking openly about legislation that would force gender segregation, require women to wear modest dress and other steps that would move Egyptian law closer to traditional Sharia law. Another troubling sign of the election results was the fact that female representation in the government will be tiny to non-existent. Neither dictatorship nor democracy seems to point to a very promising future for the fearless Egyptian women who rallied so bravely in the streets of Cairo.

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