In the aftermath of the wave of uprisings that took place across the Arab world in 2011, women were placed under the spotlight of post-revolution political discussion. During the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, the contribution of Arab women to the toppling of the Ben Ali and Mubarak regimes was both undeniable and admired.
Yet when Islamist regimes seized power in both countries, such recognition was withheld and replaced with advocacy for a range of oppressive policies for women. Indeed, various statements by Islamist figures have blamed women for both sexual harassment and domestic violence. As a result, a number of reactionary movements have sprung up for the purpose of rejecting Islamist agenda on women.
One of these movements, Uprising of Women in the Arab World, became particularly well known. The movement is a social media campaign dedicated to creating a platform from which Arab women can tell their stories and protest issues like domestic violence, sexual harassment and sexism. Movements offline also sprung up, particularly in light of the various attacks made on female protesters, which led to women taking to the streets to protest their governments’ neglect of their rights. Despite these initiatives, little change was evoked as both the Tunisian Ennahda Party and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood continued to propagate and encourage blaming women for the problems they face.
This process raises questions about the future of feminism and the advocacy of women’s rights in the Arab world. While feminist organizations have existed in the region for decades, it is the adoption of a more radical framework that has sparked controversy in the two years following the Arab revolutions. One example of this is the alliance between some Arab feminists and a Ukrainian group called Femen. The first to publicly adopt the doctrines of Femen was Egyptian Aliaa el-Mahdi, who posted a nude photo of herself online that sparked public outrage and debates over the acceptability of public nudity.
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