Post-Revolution Quests for Personal Liberty and Human Rights
On March 8, 2012 a protest was staged in Cairo involving a wide spectrum of feminists, human rights activists, political actors, members of the 9th March movement for academic freedoms, and members of Kifaya, demanding equal representation for women in the soon to be elected constitutional assembly. According to Hania Sholkamy of the American University of Cairo, the group gathered to air grievances about “proposed changes to personal status laws which could mean that Egyptian women lose some of their rights.”
Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi warned the women of the Arab of regression of women’s rights in the post revolution period. “The law that is being enforced in Iran today does not consider women to be full human beings. Instead, it ascribes to women a value half that of a man,” said Ebadi speaking of post-revolution Iran. Ebadi stated that “Shariah law and women’s rights do not have to be mutually exclusive,” and opined that the revolutions will not be revolutions true revolutions without full integration of women into society and the political system.”
“Women’s rights have over the past year gone from oblivion and ignominy to becoming a cause célèbre of the people,” wrote Sholkamy in Open Democracy. The status of women and gender equality has become an integral part of the political conversation in Egypt, but the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has yet to contribute to the discussion. The FJP have charged the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) as “a global American conspiracy to destroy the Egyptian Family and impose western morality.” Cases of discrimination, notably the forced virginity tests performed on women demonstrators under detention, Shalkomy says, presents an opportunity to the FJP women’s committee to take initiative and join the fight for gender equality.
Other minorities and gender groups continue to fight for their rights and representation in this time of transition in the Middle East. Writing for Foreign Policy, Brian Whitaker argued that Islamist groups should divest from cultural relativism and belief that “each country has its own particulars,” and include gay rights in its support of human rights.
Whitaker maintains that controversial statements made from newly-elected Islamist leaders show antiquated dogmas continue to pervade the political ranks. However, while homophobic leaders have progressed in their opinions and have not, as many Islamic scholars have done in the past, suggested that homosexuals should be “put to death” or suffer violence but rather have chosen to regard homosexuality as a curable illness. Whitaker writes that progression from sin to illness makes it hard for governments to punish homosexuality and may offer rationale for a way forward. Whitaker’s article suggests that gay rights is “an important measure of how far, or not a society has moved from authoritarianism,” as gay rights are “intimately bound up with questions of personal liberty,” and answering these question will set the precedents at many levels of society.