Writer and activist Mona Eltahawy on her release from an Egyptian prison, both arms broken by soldiers during her arrest.
Written by Solana Larsen
Egyptian-American columnist Mona Eltahawy has once again sparked controversy with an article in Foreign Policy magazine on April 23, 2012, entitled Why Do They Hate Us? about discrimination against women in the Middle East. Eltahawy argues that Arab societies are fundamentally misogynistic and that endless abuses against women, “fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion” take place.
Many Arab journalists, bloggers and activists have criticized the way Eltahawy frames her arguments, and expressed anger at the images accompanying the article of a nude woman in black body-paint resembling a niqab, arguing these are stereotypical depictions of Arab women.
Foreign Policy has since published responses by five commentators.
Eltahawy writes in the article:
Some may ask why I’m bringing this up now, at a time when the region has risen up, fueled not by the usual hatred of America and Israel but by a common demand for freedom. After all, shouldn’t everyone get basic rights first, before women demand special treatment? And what does gender, or for that matter, sex, have to do with the Arab Spring? But I’m not talking about sex hidden away in dark corners and closed bedrooms. An entire political and economic system – one that treats half of humanity like animals – must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.
In a post entitled Mona: Why Do You Hate Us? Egyptian activist and blogger Gigi Ibrahim writes:
The fundamental problem of Mona’s essay is the context and framework of how she analyzes why women in the Middle East are oppressed and the only reason she could give is because men and Arab societies (culturally and religiously) hate women. This is offensive to most women I know, who read the article and shared the same view. Women in the Middle East are not oppressed by men out of male dominance, they are oppressed by regimes (who happened to be men in power) and systems of exploitation (which exploit based on class not gender). Having women in power in a flawed system will not “fix” the problem either. We had a women’s quota in Mubarak’s parliament, did that change anything for women in reality? It was all ink on paper. Even after revolution, women are consistently used for political grounds by crony political parties. Explaining why women are oppressed without touching on any of the historical, political, or economical aspects of Arab countries, which are not all the same as she tends to generalize in her article, couldn’t be more delusional than this piece.
Hafsa Halawa in Egypt is not completely against the article:
@Hhafoos: Whilst I disagree w her tone & I certainly don’t agree w pictures used, there are facts in Mona Eltahawy’s article we can’t ignore anymore
We are not weak, Mona, and the Arab revolutions have proved to us that we are stronger than we thought, and the heroines of the Arab revolutions don’t need to be pointed out. I don’t think we need saviors from the hatred and vengeance of our men, especially since the revolutions have proved that we are more than able to stand shoulder to shoulder with men to achieve progress for our societies. Your article paints a picture of the Arab society that matches the images of the article: black, bleak, depressing, a painted black body. You have reduced the problem of the Arab woman to the feelings of men; while she was reduced to pathetic images which perfectly represent the images the West have of her. Arab society is not as barbaric as you present it in the article, which enhances the stereotype of us in the reader’s mind, and it is a stereotype which is frighteningly widespread, and contributes to the widening cultural rift between our society and other societies, and the increase of racism towards us.
Photos of Mona Eltahawy on her release from an Egyptian prison, both arms broken by soldiers during her arrest via twitpic
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