by Salim Mansur
The monthly journal Foreign Policy recently published an essay by Mona Eltahawy titled “Why Do They Hate Us?”
Eltahawy is an American of Egyptian origin, a graduate from the American University in Cairo with a master’s degree in journalism, who publishes views on politics and culture inside the Arab world.
In the large amount of reporting from and about the Middle East, Eltahawy’s writings convey the perspectives, and hurt, of Arab and Muslim women trapped in the web of a patriarchal culture with its endemic misogyny and violence. Her recent essay was written after her own traumatic experience last November in Cairo.
There she was assaulted, groped and beaten by goons linked to security forces in Tahrir Square where the so-called “Arab Spring” gathered pace and toppled Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship.
There is, however, the denial and the apologetics of those made uncomfortable by light shed on the disgusting reality of how in the name of Islam a pre-modern culture continues to degrade women in our day and age.
Once upon a time — and a long, long time ago — Islam brought improvement for women in a world characterized by patriarchy. This improvement in the relative sense allows for many Muslims to engage in polemical defence of Islam for advancing women’s rights long before the subject took hold in the West.
The making of the modern world left the Arab-Muslim region behind in every aspect of human progress and, as Eltahawy indicates, the latest Global Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum on the status of women ranks the Arab countries at the bottom of the list.
“Name me an Arab country,” writes Eltahawy, “and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fuelled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend.”
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is moving full steam ahead to establish an Islamist order. This is a leap backwards in time and, without mincing words, an Islamic variant of fascism.
But when it comes to the status of women, Saudi Arabia stands as the model for Islamists in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world.
Eltahawy does not mince words to describe the Saudi kingdom which, she writes, is “unabashed in its worship of a misogynistic God and never suffers any consequences for it, thanks to its double-whammy advantage of having oil and being home to Islam’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina.”
Muslim women have known from the earliest days the promise of Islam and its oppressive reality as practised by Muslim men. The promise indicts Muslim men for their misogyny — apologetics aside — and in our age the Shariah-based sanction for the abuse of women is a crime against humanity.
Eltahawy is one courageous voice of Arab women. There are others. And they remind all that the genuinely revolutionary force for change in the Arab-Muslim world is women.
Yet the situation of women in the Arab-Muslim world of patriarchy and misogyny, if this can be imagined, has worsened. The reason is, as Eltahawy observes, the “Islamist hatred of women burns brightly across the region — now more than ever.”
Categories: Contributor Columns