The process of shaping post-revolutionary Egypt to conform to the postmodern imperial world is proceeding apace. Egypt’s long history of invasion and occupation by first France (under Napoleon) and then Britain, and less formally from 1970 on under first Sadat and Mubarak, means there is a strong secular tradition, and the current attempt by Islamists to reverse this accommodation of western norms—’good’ and ‘bad’—is meeting fierce resistance, with women and their ‘rights’ at the forefront.
Though we hear complaints that Egyptian women are having a tough time these days, fearing restrictions by Islamists on their public lives, at least two prominent women have already left their mark, defying Egypt’s move towards a more religious-focused society.
Booby trap I
Uncelebrated, but key to the current political turmoil is Tahani el-Gebali, deputy president of the Supreme Constitutional Court. After the brief period of unity in 2011 between the minority of westernized secularists and the overwhelming majority of devout Egyptians, when the secularists were forced to reach out to their political rivals out of dire necessity to depose Mubarak, the battlelines quickly changed. While accusing the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) of colluding with the military over the transfer of power, it was, in fact, the secularists who worked behind the scenes with the military to disband the democratically-elected Islamist majority. Chief conspirator was Gebali, who advised the generals to “plant a booby trap”, making the elections vulnerable to annulment by the judiciary.
Shockingly for Egyptians of any stripe, she later boasted about this conspiracy (surely impeachable, if real culprits were ever to be caught in such legal snares) in the New York Times (4 July 2012). The panicky, clueless generals agree to the hatchet-woman’s proposal to seize the president’s powers (just in case the MB candidate Morsi was elected), and disband the MB-dominated parliament using the Supreme Constitutional Court, dissolving the first transparently-elected parliament in Egypt’s history, ensuring that the Mubarak-era generals would oversee drafting of the constitution.
When the elected parliament, dominated by MBers, sought to assert control over the interim military-appointed government, the generals’ hand-picked Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri rang up the hatchet-woman, and she proceeded to dismiss the parliament.
Newly-elected President Mohamed Morsi, though inexperienced in the tricks of the trade, proved to be not such a shrinking violet. But even after producing a constitution (approved by 65%), Gebali’s friends on the Supreme Administrative Court recently scuttled the proposed elections to replace the parliament she disbanded last year (now being appealed). It seems Egypt’s secularists, with feminists in the lead, have decided if they can’t win elections, then they won’t let them happen at all. Sometimes, it is necessary to destroy the village in order to save it, as certain other secularists argued back in 1968, faced with similar (communist) intransigence in poor Vietnam. Even Mubarak has had enough, calling out against violent protests and for Egyptians to “rally around their elected president”, according to his lawyer Farid el-Deeb.
Morsi’s rule has been rocky to say the least. From the start, he has faced incessant, at times violent, protests calling for his resignation. MB headquarters have been torched and MB activists killed. Western and westernized critics have denounced the new Egyptian constitution, warning that it was anti-women, demanding formal equality as in western constitutions. The constitution (horror of horrors) refers several times to the role of women as “caregivers”. Worse yet, one article says that the state will provide necessary services for mothers and children free, and will ensure a balance between a woman’s family responsibilities and work in society. Egyptian judge Ali Mokhtar, head of the Cairo court of appeal, sees this as a threat to women, complaining that this allows the government to determine the balance between women’s rights and their role within their families. “This broaches on society’s personal ethics.” Tsk, tsk.
Booby trap II
Morsi’s most recent female thorn is Mervat el-Tallawi, head of the National Council for Women (NCW), who headed the Egypt’s delegation to the 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women last week. She charged the MB, which issued a statement highly critical of the Commission’s draft statement, with tarnishing Egypt’s international image, telling delegates that, “Women are the slaves of this age, particularly in our region.” She called for “international solidarity for women’s empowerment”, which easily morphs into ‘international pressure to make sure Egypt conforms to a western agenda’.
The issue of women’s ‘rights’ is now shaping up to be another booby trap for the Islamic awakening and the attempt by the Islamists to go beyond the bankrupt order bequeathed to them by their westernizers. If the US had its way, Egyptian women would live in a social and political order reflecting western values, where men and women are strictly the same before the law, and traditional roles and the family are quaint shibboleths.
The UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and the associated UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1981) are intended to ensure that certain basic standards for women are observed around the world.. Fair enough. But the CSW and CEDAW are dominated by western secularists, who promote a lowest-common-denominator levelling process of men and women. The identity politics pushed by these western-funded organizations (and the thousands of NGO spin-offs) have little to contribute to solving the real problems that the billions of poor women around the world face.
Legalized abortion, free distribution of contraceptives to teenagers, lesbian rights are much cheaper and easier to promote than universal health care and education, and financial assistance to promote small-scale production in villages, and indeed work to undermine morality and society, as the MB statement asserted, much to Tallawi’s dismay. The MB criticized the draft CSW charter for, among other articles, allowing Muslim women to marry non-Muslims, condoning homosexuality, “replacing guardianship with partnership, and full sharing of roles within the family between men and women”, and calling for equal inheritance rights for men and women. These and other recommendations it called “destructive tools meant to undermine the family as an important institution” that “would drag society back to pre-Islamic ignorance.”
Coverage in the western media was intended to expose the MB as a laughing stock, but for anyone who sees western society as licentious, and understands the importance of the family in Muslim society and the great advance that Islam was over the pre-Islamic order, their words ring true. Oblivious to any of this was Norway’s “Gender Equality” Minister (I’m not making that up) Inga Marte Thorkildsen, who chortled, “I am very happy that it was possible to isolate some of the most reactionary groups, including the Vatican and Iran.” Do your homework, Inga — Iran is one of the leading countries providing sex-change operations.
A great milestone in US women’s rights last year was to allow American women the privilege of donning macho khaki uniforms and killing ‘enemies’ in combat, shoulder-to-shoulder with their male counterparts. As if it wasn’t bad enough that American men are advancing the imperial project by killing all those who stand in its path, American women (oh yes, and openly gay Americans of either gender) are now legally culpable of these crimes against humanity as well. (Most other ‘advanced’ countries long ago let women have this privilege.) Now, of course, a new problem arises: soldier rape, requiring yet another (unenforceable) law — against soldiers raping each other. No doubt this will be a focus of the 58th UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Pakinam el-Sharkawy, Morsi’s political adviser and a member of Tallawi’s delegation to the UN conference, explained that the Egyptian government objected to calling restrictions on abortion “an act of violence against women”. Asked about the MB statement’s supposedly attempt to shield marital rape from legal prosecution,. Sharkawy countered angrily,”Marital rape? Is this a big problem that we have? Should we import [western] concerns and problems and adopt them as ours? Do not pick issues not pressing in Egypt, and then tell me that I’m in a conflict with the international community.”
The MB called upon the CSW to “rise to the high morals and principles of family relations prescribed by Islam” and “on women’s organizations to commit to their religion and morals of their communities and the foundations of good social life”. More than fair enough.
The more controversial measures were withdrawn and Tallawi signed the conference’s declaration on behalf of Egypt on the condition that its fulfillment was a “moral obligation” to be implemented according to each country’s local affairs. Essam Haddad, presidential adviser for foreign affairs, said that the presidency expressed its rejection of all forms of violence against women for whatever reason and that Egypt has a comprehensive strategy to address this violence, predating the revolution. An anti-harassment law will be submitted to the Shura Council soon, and parliament will develop a national plan using dialogue, workshops and polls.
The NYT coverage of the conference promoted Tallawi as the plucky spokeswoman for Egypt’s women fighting the sexist Islamists. What the NYT left out was what the NCW represents to most Egyptians. The NCW was founded and headed by Suzanne Mubarak (president) and her good friend Tallawi (consul general) in 2000, was famously burned to the ground during the revolution, and was given a cosmetic clean-up by the military in February 2012 (the NCW building remains a blackened hulk), leaving Tallawi and other friends of the Mubaraks in place. It continues the westernizing agenda of the old guard, and not surprisingly rejected the constitution as discriminatory against women. At an NCW meeting last December, participants chanted, “Down with the rule of the Supreme Guide!”, accusing the president of being a puppet of the Brotherhood, and called on the president to resign.
The MB rejected the military’s cosmetic ‘reform’ of the NCW, calling for it to be disbanded and a new organization formed, but only after “reconsidering the NCW’s aim and assessing its performance before the revolution”, so that the Egyptian women’s organization does not just “reproduce the same western plans for which the NCW was established.” The NCW survived despite its unpopularity among most Egyptians, and despite the intention of the MB’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, to replace it with a national family council. Again Egypt’s feminists got the military to come to their rescue.
But watch your step, Gebali and Tallawi. The conspiracy of convenience between the secularists, courts, old guard and military may still unravel. Last summer, the MB asserted some degree of authority over the military (where there are surely many MB supporters). Morsi annulled Gebali’s constitutional declaration giving the president’s powers to SCAF, appointed a senior judge, Mahmoud Mekki, vice-president (since retired, as the new constitution does not include a vice presidency), and Morsi has tried to use his presidential powers to push forward with reforms, despite lacking a parliament.
Western women’s attraction to Islam
Reconstructing an Islamic civilization must start with the family and both women’s and men’s rights and responsibilities. In the West, their ‘rights’ are now considered identical, and the very concept of ‘responsibilities’ seems to have flown out the postmodern door. But do legalized prostitution, abortion-on-demand, and women combat soldiers advance women’s rights, or do these ‘advances’ undermine the very concept of the feminine?
At the same time as western feminists denounce Islam and demand compliance with western norms, there is a rise in the rate of conversion to Islam precisely by western women, who, according to convert Yvonne Haddad, “find the price of freedom promised by American feminism to be too steep and dehumanizing.” Feminists happily ‘liberate’ men from a sense of responsibility toward women and the family and in the process enslave women. “They have become imitators of men, not free to be themselves, always in the process of measuring up to the men.” Western-style women’s emancipation “is actually a disguised form of exploitation of her body, deprivation of her honor, and degradation of her soul,” according to Abdur Rahman Doi.
The very concept of ‘family’ is disintegrating, with most children now born to unmarried single mothers in the US. This sorry fact is not on the agenda of the CSW, the NCW or the Obama government, but is surely at the top of the agenda of those in Egypt trying to undo a century and a half of imperial remodelling of Egyptian society.