Anyone remember what one of the most striking images to surface from Iran’s uprising last summer over the fallout from the country’s so-called elections were? Iranian women protesting.
The world was shocked to see Iranians, 70% of whom are under that age of 25 yrs old, pour onto the streets demanding their votes be counted. But what was equally confusing for the world to witness was the huge role Iranian women played in shaping this revolt against their government.
Why should people be surprised? Iranian women, who make up 65% of university students in the country, are also amongst the most educated in the Middle East. They have been organizing underground for years under a regime that specifically targets their rights. In fact at the end of last summer’s bloody protests, it was the face of a woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, brutally shot to death by an Iranian government sniper, who became the defining symbol for the “Green Revolution.”
We are witnessing a very similar movement in Egypt. And no, I am not talking about the fall of a “secular leader” (read: oppressive dictator backed by the US) in a Muslim country, thus leading to the creation of an Islamic State. I know this is the big fear of the West and the US media that the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s government, aka dictatorship, will only pave the way for Egypt to become the “new Iran.”
I am talking about young people coming out in full-force to fight for democracy. I am talking about young Muslims fighting for their freedoms and quite literally being killed for it. We saw it in Iran last year and we are seeing it in Egypt today. Their fight for freedom breaks the age-old stereotype that Arabs and Muslims do not want democracy and are incapable of handling it. Unless of course it is hand-delivered by the US through invasion, occupation, and in some kind of three-step program ushered in by USAID, right?
These uprisings in a region where the majority of the population are young, educated, and craving the freedom to determine their destinies are shared by Muslim men and women alike. Just like we saw Iranian women come out to fight for their rights last year, we are seeing it in Egypt right now.
One unique aspect about the Egyptian protests is religious unity. As veteran Egyptian feminist and human rights activist Nawal El Saadawi described to Democracy Now:
Women and girls are, beside the boys, in the streets. We are calling for justice, freedom and equality and real democracy, and a new constitution where there is no discrimination between men and women, no discrimination between Muslim and Christians, to change the system and to have real democracy.
Democracy and women’s rights go hand in hand. And no group understands that equation better than women, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. That is why they are always amongst the first to go out on the streets to fight for their future.
By positioning themselves at the forefront of these protests, Egyptian women, just like Iranian women last year, are breaking a huge stereotype about Muslim women: That we are passive, voiceless, and apathetic when it comes to our country’s politics.