Solutions to Violent Conflict

Women & Revolution: Notes from Tahrir Square

In Middle East, Revolution on July 6, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Noha Tarek

Noha Tarek Abbas is a 25-year old student at Cairo University. She was actively involved in Tahrir Square during the 18 days of the revolution. These comments are transcribed from an interview in Cairo on June 8, 2011.

When we planned the actions that started the revolution on January 25, we made sure to avoid not only physical attacks but also verbal abuse. We wanted to be nonviolent in word as well as deed. Even when the police began beating and shooting us, we tried to keep calm. We knew that if we attacked the police we would be sending the wrong message to the people of Egypt.

We were engaged in an image war with the government. We were seeking to reach the people in the middle and needed to maintain a positive image. Our only tools of communication were Facebook and the Internet, and these were shut down part of the time. Our actions had to be our message.

A MIRACULOUS TRANSFORMATION

Women played an active role in the protests. Initially my family was reluctant to see me going into the Square every day without an escort. This is not done normally in Egypt. Relations between men and women are not very positive. We are often hassled and harassed by men.

During the revolution, though, a miraculous transformation occurred. Men were more considerate, and we could participate freely without being hassled. I could just walk around the Square, even after midnight, without any problems. Even the Islamists said nothing. No one told us it was wrong to be in public at night with men.

During the revolution we didn’t think of ourselves as women and men but as one people, the children of Egypt working together for our country. Things occurred that never would have happened before.

During the terrible night of January 28, when dozens of protestors were killed and I myself was knocked down and injured, I needed to go home. It was 3 in the morning, and most of those remaining in the Square were men. I was tired and aching, searching for a ride home. I asked a guy if he would help me get a taxi. He didn’t say anything negative. He put in me in a car with three other guys and I was taken home. No hassles, only caring support.

The only other time I felt so secure in public was during the pilgrimage to Mecca. The focus was not on differences, but on working together.

A few nights later in the Square a female friend and I were looking wearily for a place to sleep. A young guy escorted us to a nearby building. He made a place for us to stay and stood outside the whole night to make sure we were protected and could sleep undisturbed.

It was almost like a utopian city in the Square. The only other time in my life I felt so secure in public was during the pilgrimage to Mecca. The whole spirit of those days was like the hajj. The focus was not on differences, but on working together to create a better future.

IN THE LEAD, BUT NOT RECOGNIZED

Although women were in the lead in many of the protests and marches, we were not recognized for our role. In the final days of the demonstrations I attended a meeting of some of the core protest leaders. I was not invited. I just came. When the chair went around the room to ask people to introduce themselves, he skipped over our group of four women. We were completely marginalized.

In the streets, we were often in charge. Women took the lead in the rally at the Peoples’ Assembly and in the march to the Presidential Palace the day before Mubarak resigned. But in leadership meetings we were not recognized.

Millions of Egyptian women came into the streets for the first time and joined equally with men in demanding a free country.

The most important fact about the role of women during the revolution is that ordinary women from working class families and poor neighborhoods joined the protests. It was not just middle class girls and educated women like us. Women from all walks of life joined the revolution. I met a woman in the streets who said, ‘my husband does not want be here but I came anyway.’ Millions of Egyptian women came into the streets for the first time and joined equally with men in demanding a free country.