Women In Egypt Heed Warning From Iranian Women On Rights
Last week, tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo on the one-year anniversary of the 2011 revolt. With Islamists winning nearly half of the seats in Parliament recently, some Iranian women caution their Egyptian counterparts to learn from their revolution, after which they say they lost rights with the formation of an extreme Islamic state.
By Dina Sadek
CAIRO, EGYPT – Sanaa Roshdy, 54, a housewife in Cairo, Egypt’s capital, was one of many Egyptians who watched a premonitory YouTube video that began to circulate last year named “Message From Iranian Women to Tunisian and Egyptian Women.”
The video features pictures of the life of Iranian women before and after the Islamic revolution there in 1979. Depicting a reversal of women’s rights with the implementation of Islamic rule after the revolution, the video warns women in Egypt and Tunisia to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to them after revolutions in both countries a year ago and Islamic groups looking to assume leadership.
“I’ve heard people talking about the resemblance between the Egyptian revolution and the Islamic revolution many times,” Roshdy says. “It never made sense to me until I saw this video.”
The video shows women’s participation just as well as men’s in the overthrow of pro-Western Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Iran. But according to the video, the women were the first to be oppressed afterward in a variety of ways, including strict standards of dress.
During the time of the shah, there had been no dress code for women in Iran, as photos in the video portray. But soon after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had been a prominent political leader during the revolution, took over, he made mandatory the hijab, the headscarf worn by Muslim women.
Roshdy says that, like in Iran, women in Egypt were also freer to dress in the past.
“As a woman in my 50s, in my youth things were different,” Roshdy says. “We were all about fashion. How we dress was never about having to cover every piece of our bodies.”
But she says dress has already become more conservative in Egypt throughout the years. Validating the video’s message, she says that this will become more extreme if radical Islamists gain control of Egypt.
“Nowadays, you have to be fairly covered to walk around the streets of Egypt, and that is just because of the social standards, let alone if the country is ruled by radical Islamists,” she says. “Not that we wear scandalous clothes anyway, but it has to be a choice, not a law.”
When the Arab Spring sparked in the beginning of 2011, women’s rights and dress were never the focus. In Egypt, the focus was on what people really wanted and demanded in their protests: “bread, freedom and social justice.”
Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the Egyptian uprising. Islamists celebrated what they deemed was a successful revolution and success in recent Parliament elections. But thousands of protesters voiced disagreement, chanting instead that the revolution isn’t finished yet and demanding the removal of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the body of military officials that has been governing Egypt since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.