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Women and Democracy in the Middle East

Article by Charles Glass.

That there is a long way to go became clear on the night that Hosni Mubarak resigned and mobs crowded into Tahrir Square to claim credit for a revolution that others had made. (They were like those “resisters of the eleventh hour” who jammed the streets of Paris on the night of August 24, 1944 to pretend they had been in the Resistance all along.) I spoke by telephone to a young woman who had been in the square most of the previous two weeks, and she said that many of those who came on February 11 had not been there before. Some men attacked and sexually assaulted CBS correspondent Lara Logan. About eighty-three percent of all Egyptian women said they had been harassed in public at least once, while half of them said they suffered similar treatment every day. This is according to the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights’ 2008 report. The dictatorship ignored that behavior, but a democracy cannot afford to do so.

Taking responsibility for one’s own life, which is what democracy requires, means growing up. You are no longer the leader’s wayward child, you are a full citizen with obligations to other citizens. If this revolution is to succeed beyond merely sending tyrants to luxurious retirement, the people will have to become sovereign. The women must have an equal say with men in how the society is constituted. And the men must, if they are to be men, grow up.

Gideon Levy wrote of his country’s treatment of the Arabs it rules:

What sort of democracy is this, if exactly half the state’s residents don’t benefit from it? Indeed, can the term “democratic” be applied to a state in which many of the residents live under a military regime or are deprived of civil rights? Can there be democracy without equality, with a lengthy occupation and with foreign workers who have no rights?

He might have been writing of women in the Arab world, which may enshrine the equality of women before Israel does the same with its Arab population.

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