Christine Petré
Last updated: 3 October, 2012

The voice of Egypt’s women

“It’s just the beginning”, read one of the power-point slides that introduced a panelist session that would take us, the audience, back to the 28 of January 2011 and leave us at Tahrir Square today.

Cairo based journalist and editor Mia Gröndahl, who has been active in Egypt for 12 years, gathered Egyptian and Swedish female writers, journalists, and activists, to portray the Egyptian revolution in the book Nothing is only for men, published in September 2012. The purpose of the book was to shed light on women’s history, and include the faiths of a few young women during the Egyptian revolution. The book takes its readers beyond the headlines of the revolution and leaves them with an understanding of women’s situation in Egypt. The portrayed women, despite coming from different backgrounds were, like so many others, brought together by a shared passion for change and, therefore, engaged forcefully and courageously in the revolution.

Listening to a few of the book’s contributors, Hanan Elbadawi, Karima Kamal, Helena Hägglund and Bitte Hammargren, the audience was brought back to the 28 of January 2011, which later would be described as the Day of Anger. Before the revolution demonstrations were rare and it, therefore, became a huge deal when 10,000 people demonstrated against the US-Iraq war. But Egypt had seen nothing yet, when Day of Anger came out it was not only the number of demonstrating people that was astonishing, but also its composition; there was an equal amount of women and men at the scene. The stereotype of angry young men was quickly abandoned.

Hanan Elbadawi described how one of the women portrayed in the book, without any experience from demonstrations before January 28, stayed on Tahrir Square until Mubarak resigned as president on February 11. She, amongst many others, ate and slept at Tahrir Square. Elbadawi described how Mubarak had robbed the youth of hopes and dreams, but the revolution gave its demonstrators a feeling of restitution and Elbadawi said convincingly, “when one gets hold of one’s hopes and dreams you don’t let go.” Many women took off their veil during the revolution, a trend still seen across Egypt today. The amount of courage amongst people was immense, but it did not end there.  

The revolution encouraged and strengthened people in general and women’s position in particular. However, Helena Hägglund was quick to point out that Egypt has a strong female history, but which, from time to time, has been suppressed by the government. For that reason, the panelists expressed concern for the future. Today the female movement is strong and thus poses a threat to the current government, which caused concern across the panel. 

The panelists also raised a warning about the socio-economic injustice that Egypt is facing and the possible outcome of a deteriorating economic situation. If improvements and growth continue to stall, then the Egyptian people may, once again, revolt.

This week has already seen doctors’ striking over low wages and underfunded hospitals, and the panel revealed that a women’s demonstration is planned to take place on October 4. It seems, for the Egyptian people in general and women in particular that it’s indeed “just the beginning!”