The March 8th demonstration on International Women’s Day to demand equal rights for women in Tahrir was a blow to many of us. What was intended as a peaceful gathering on International Women’s Day for the rights of Egyptian women turned into an angry scene, with anti-demonstrators (mostly men) chanting and purposefully intimidating the demonstrators: “Haram” (It’s forbidden/shameful) “Kefaya” (Enough) “Mish wa2to” (It isn’t the time for this), and more. Some men were ripping up the signs of protesters and one older man was yelling that none of the women there were mothers of the martyrs.
Eventually, as the numbers of demonstrators dwindled, those against the demonstration harassed and ran people out of the square by force, with some women fleeing to safety. This outcome does prove, as well all knew, that there is a long way to go. Some thoughts:
Stop the self blame
Initially, some of my first thoughts were filled with self-blame: we didn’t gather enough numbers, we didn’t have some superficially simple distilled message, maybe it wasn’t the right time, etc. But you know what? Screw that. I just finished reading a piece by my boss, Hania (Sholkamy), that points out that there were no less than four other protests happening simultaneously nearby Tahrir for various causes (large protest by Maspero against a murder and burning of a Coptic church, Salafis in front of the PM’s office demanding the release of Christian women who converted to Islam then supposedly back to Christianity again, students calling for the resignation of the president of Fayoum University, workers outside of the Semiramis demonstrating for better work conditions) and yet the Million Women demo was the ONLY ONE that was intimated and harassed into silence, specifically being told to go back to the kitchen and criticized for what we were wearing. It was a peaceful demonstration! It was not disrupting any businesses or offices and was not blocking traffic. Actually, those men (and a few women) who came to protest against us where the ones standing in the road, disturbing the flow of cars in Tahrir! Both women and men participated in the struggle to depose Mubarak and (hopefully) rid the country of a stagnant and corrupt political system. They should also be able to demand full and equal rights for women without fear of violence or oppression!
Participating as a foreigner
Anti-foreigners sentiments seemed to be running a bit high. We were approached by a man selling flags who told us in English, “Monkeys, we Egyptians are monkeys who you are watching! Go home, leave our country!” Throughout these revolutionary days, it has been difficult as a foreigner to decide whether or not to go out and protest alongside Egyptian friends. I personally have felt torn in many situations as indeed Egypt is not my home country and the presence of foreigners in protests is often used against those protesting as evidence of foreign interference in domestic affairs. That said, I support the aspirations of the many people here who I know and love to determine the future of their country and rights and felt honored to walk, run, chant and bulk up numbers alongside these friends during those 18 days. Additionally, if there were to be one day in which foreign women could stand by their Egyptian sisters (and brothers) in solidarity for equal rights, you would hope it would be International Women’s Day.
Feeling like a (dejected) feminist
As the situation at the demonstration turned ugly, some friends and I left to drown our sorrows at Horreya and we applauded when we saw a man walk in wearing a shirt that read “this is what a feminist looks like.” Unfortunately, as my friend Lissie pointed out, the feminist acknowledges our cheers but after taking a seat at a nearby table, was morosely holding his head in his hands. Indeed, on March 8th, this was what a feminist in Egypt felt like.
I’ll leave you with a link to an article in Ahram Online by Hala Shukrallah about why these counter-revolutionary events are targeting Copts and women .