Women and the Arab Spring: “New Era” or “Unclear” Future

Writing an op-ed in the New York Times, Farzaneh Milani argues that the same forces of self-determination and freedom of movement have motivated Saudi women protesting for the right to drive and women participating in Arab Spring protests. The collective activism of women and men signifies that “old categories have broken down and the traditional distribution of power and space is no longer viable.” Milani credits these women as a “moderating, modernizing force to be reckoned with” and “an antidote to extremism.” Similar to the unprecedented participation of women in the Arab Spring, the women’s campaign for the right to drive in Saudi Arabia represents “a revolution within revolutions,” and “is a harbinger of a new era in the region.”

In contrast, Kristine Goulding argues that despite the crucial role women have played in revolutions throughout the region, ” their role in the future development of their own countries remains unclear.” Arguing that history is full of “democratic paradoxes,” where women have seen a regression of rights after revolutions hailed as democratic, Goulding cites the fact that women have been nearly absent from interim governments in Tunisia and Egypt as the latest examples of the paradox. While expressing concerns for the future of Tunisian women,  Goulding concludes that “we cannot underestimate the capacity of Tunisian politicians and civil society to promote moderation and restraint in the polity.”