In the article published in Foreign Policy by the Egyptian-American columnist Mona El Tahawy, she argues that in the Arab World/Middle East takes place a war on women. According to her, Arab men are ‘hating’ Arab women. This explaining sexual harrasment, genital mutilation, virginity tests, child marriage, etc.
Alas, Mona El Tahawy commits 3 big mistakes:
1) to mix facts with personnal opinions/impressions: the article starts with a fictional scene from a novel by great Egyptian writer, gives a few facts and then concludes with biased personnal impressions. How is established the connection between objective events and an inner subjective feeling called hate? Why ignoring aside all known works that emphasizes the importance of economical instability, social background, political chaos?
2) to consider Arab men, alltogether as a non-official supranational monolithic group, that cooperate instinctively, driven only by their hate towards Arab women. To consider these men’s sole purpose is to make of women’s lives a nightmare. The origin of this will to crush women, apparently, consists in a mix of culture and religion. Thus forgetting that the “Arab World” is a mixed bag of twenty-two countries, each of them with different cultural background, History, society. There is more difference between the legal/social status of a women in Tunisia and in Saudi Arabia than between a woman in Tunisia and Italy. There is a bigger cultural overlap between Morocco and Mali than between Morocco and Bahraïn. And maybe there is more difference between the lifestyle of cities and countrysides of one same country than between two urban areas of two different countries? So what Arab World, what Arab men and women are we talking about? Mona El Tahawy mixes in a few paragraphs what happens to women in Egypt, Yemen, Saudi altogether and more or less assumes that in every Arab country women suffers from the sum of all these added abuses. The fact is, there is no “Arab feminists” or “Arab societies”, there is Egyptian/Moroccan/Saudi/etc feminists and societies, each country having its issues with women’s rights and its own battles to lead.
3) to forget to compare and consider the long History of feminism of other parts of the World. Mona El Tahawy looks to the women issues in the Arab World as if it was an isolated case in the world, as if what happens there is unique in its kind and could be understood only with cultural/religious backwardness of the region. While looking at women’s conditions in other parts of the world would have enlighted Mona (and us) about the fact that in particular political change and military conflicts can drive a drastic change for better or worse in women’s conditions. Is the dramatic condition of women in Afghanistan or Iran a result of cultural backwardness or is it at least partly due to political and geopolitical conditions, given the fact that less than 50years ago women in these countries were living freely? Why did the European feminism win its biggest battles between WWI and WWII and shortly after? Is there not any useful conclusions to make from the drift between women’s rights in Western and Eastern Europe? Mona speaks extensively about sexual harrasment in Egypt, why does she not compare with a country like South Africa where 40% of women are forced into their first sexual intercourse instead of comparing it less revelantly with the rest of Arab world?
Mona El Tahawy is an influential columnist; in consequence, her article launched a vast debate on women’s conditions in the Arab World on blogs and social medias. The fact she reaches wrong conclusions disconnected from reality is counterbalanced by the number of smart reactions and answers by women from Egypt, Kuwait or anywhere else that enlight us about field based experiences. If it had this effect, then at least it was worth it. Still, I hope in the future she takes care of not speaking on behalf of “Arab women”, especially when she apparently has never put a foot in most of the countries she mentions and thus never interacted with women from there.