Arab Uprising & Women's Rights: Lessons from Iran

Moghissi, Haideh
Date Written:  2013-01-01
Publisher:  Against the Current
Year Published:  2013
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX19876

The aftermath of the ''Arab Spring" revolutionary activity is bringing forth changes that run counter to the ideals and visions of the original change-seeking forces. Most notably, the swift turn in favor of Islamist parties in the wake of these uprisings -- for example, in Egypt and Tunisia -- while not unexpected, is worrisome indeed. For women in particular, a revolution whose mobilizing demands were freedom, democracy and social justice turned into a huge prison under the self-appointed guardians of Shari'a.



This is to say that the signs of hard challenges ahead in the Arab countries are many, particularly for the active opposition in which women are a part. But we also see many signs of militant Islamists losing their grip on people in every Muslim-majority country that has tasted a dose of Islamists’ violence and illusory plans to restore Islamic traditions that have nothing to do with people’s genuine concerns and urgent needs.

In fact the speed of popular disillusionment and delegitimization of governing Islamists in these countries is astonishing. Obviously in a situation where half of the population lives in a state of poverty and, in the case of Egypt, factories have closed since 2011, and foreign currency and tourism have drastically shrunk, people need bread, not preaching on how to be better Muslims. Rana Jawad reported from Libya in September that she was astonished by the number of people telling her that the mere existence of religious parties is an offensive concept.

Surely the case of Iran, following the establishment of the Islamic regime in the country, has warned people in the region that when it comes to freedom, dignity and social justice, a religious state is no alternative to a pseudo-secular authoritarian state. It may have also alerted the secular nationalist and left oppositions in Egypt and Tunisia, Libya and other Arab countries to the urgent need for pushing back the Islamists’ offensive through forming the widest possible coalitions of change-seeking individuals and political parties, religious minorities, youth, trade unions, women’s groups and other organized sections of civil society.

Cases in point are the coalition of 33 women’s rights organizations in Egypt that came together around the issues the women wanted to see included in the constitution, such as a law criminalizing sexual harassment. Ten left-leaning parties and movements have also formed the Democratic Revolutionary Coalition (DRC), based on the understanding that all opposition forces and not only the left should work together in this dangerous phase of Egypt’s revolution. The liberals have formed their own coalition, the National Salvation Front, consisting of Popular Current, Dostour Party and others.

The “Coalition for Women of Tunisia,” made up of 15 registered NGOs, was announced in September 2012. Its objective is to preserve and defend women’s rights stipulated in Tunisian law since Independence (the Personal Statute Code or CSP, promulgated in 1956, and all amendments added until 2010). The Libyan Women Forum (LWF), representing eight women’s rights organizations, formed immediately following the election results in 2011, represents another step in the same direction.

These significant developments make one remain hopeful that the unfinished revolutions in the region might produce results more favorable to the democratic forces that started the uprisings.
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