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Abstracts of papers

Reconstructing Gender in Post-revolution Egypt

Shereen Abouelnaga (email: shereens66@gmail.com)

This paper attempts to understand the process of generating novel constructs of gender that depended in their formation on the fierce tactical and discursive confrontation with an ever dormant discourse of socio-political form of power. The hegemonic discourse was aiming at consolidating it power through several means, one of which is to constitute knowledge about women’s bodies and subjectivities. However, the insistence of women (and men) to counter this discourse by ‘occupying’ the public sphere has turned these institutional discursive practices into sites of contest and challenge. Paradoxically, while the dominant discourse offers a preferred form of feminine subjectivity- claimed to be the only politically correct one- its organization and practices, mainly, ‘gendered violence,’ has implied the possibility of reversal. The reverse discourse, one can venture to call it resistance discourse, has enabled women to subvert the concept of victimization into a concept of agency only to augment political resistance, and to integrate the personal (body) within the political (revolutionary course). Far from being self-indicting, the testimonies of harassed women prove that gender was being ‘fabricated’ by force in those incidents, and that ‘silence’ was fiercely imposed. That the liberation of the body from the shackles of orthodox patriarchal discourse helped women to ‘occupy’ the public space is also to be discussed.

Gendering the Egyptian Revolution

Dina Wahba (email: dinazwahba@gmail.com)

This paper aims to gender the Egyptian revolution of 2011, exploring the centrality of gender in this momentous event. Firstly, I focus on gendering the build-up to the revolution, highlighting the 'continuity' between women's participation in the political sphere and the Egyptian revolution in order to overcome the 'surprise' related to women’s mass presence in the nationwide protests. Secondly, I turn my focus to gendering the revolutionary processes and examining the centrality of ‘defying patriarchy’ in the toppling of the regime. Furthermore, I will highlight how this political upheaval contested the gender regime. I look to gender the counterrevolution; here, I emphasize on how issues such as sexual harassment, virginity test and systematic violence against female protestors are used to hinder the revolutionary process. I will bring to light women’s role in the ongoing struggle for Egyptian identity.

Negotiating Patriarchy in East Amman

Nof Nasser Eddin (email: nof84@hotmail.com)

Based on my PhD research, this paper discusses women’s strategies in resisting patriarchy and economic disadvantage. The paper is based on an extended period of fieldwork conducted in Amman, Jordan. The research utilised an intersectional approach to understand women’s different experiences in relation to their engagement in and/or disengagement from economic activities. This paper explores how patriarchy operates differently depending on factors such as class, age, and marital status, and also because of the different ways in which women resist and negotiate patriarchal gender structures. I argue that women’s agency is ‘practised’ differently because of social and economic factors. The paper reviews the typology of how women adopt certain strategies to bargain with patriarchal structures depending on their economic and social class. It also shows how class influences women’s experiences of patriarchal structures. Moreover, women’s different ways of bargaining result in patriarchy operating differently across classes. Data collection included interviews with women and self-completion questionnaires with men and women. From the data I was able to identify multiple structures of patriarchy that influence women’s experiences differently, dependent on factors such as class education, income, culture, marital status, and age.

‘For politics to take place, the body must appear’: The emergence of new gendered imaginaries in the aftermath of Arab revolutions.

Hoda Elsadda

The wave of revolutions that swept the Arab world and transformed the political scene also had a radical influence on social and cultural life and created new publics, not least as regards gender roles. The visible and engaged presence of women in Tahrir squares and on the streets of Egyptian cities challenged the stereotypical division of gender roles in the patriarchal imaginary and highlighted women’s power and agency. More importantly, women’s participation in the revolutionary act of rebellion and reclaiming public spaces, had a transformative effect on their subjectivities and their perceptions of their agency and roles. As Arab revolutions continue to evolve, it became very evident that a key battle is fought over the right to be in public spaces, that it is “the very public character of the space …[that] is being disputed” (Butler, “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street,” eipcp, September 2011). For women protesters, the struggle over the publicness of the streets was harsh and very profound, as, because of their gender, they are twice excluded from public spaces: first, as disenfranchised citizens, men and women, living under an oppressive regime; and second, as women who suffer from discriminatory discourses that confine them to the private sphere.

The last two years have witnessed a marked increase in attempts to document the experiences of men and women who participated in Arab revolutions. For the purposes of this paper, I will focus on a project entitled: “Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution” which consists of video recordings of stories of a diverse group of women who participated in the 25th of January Egyptian revolution. All the women reflect on the impact of the revolution on their lives and their relation to the world. My analysis of the stories will attempt to shed light on how their participation in street protests impacted their own self-image and their perceptions of gender roles.

Gendered and other Spatializations of ‘Thawrat al-LuLu’ in Bahrain

Frances Hasso (email: frances.hasso@duke.edu)

This paper explores the mappings, destabilizations, reconfigurations, and consolidations of gender, ethnicity, class, and state power (Al-Khalifa ruling family, U.S., Saudi Arabia) in Bahrain since the ongoing democracy uprisings that began in February 2011. I assume mutually shaping strategies of control and resistance between state and opposition forces, whose members have varying positionalities and visions of the good society. I am particularly concerned with how strategies of repression and resistance are reflected in, on, and through different “bodily presences” (Fregonese 2012) in the built environment at particular moments -- quotidian or event-based. I am also interested in the gendered dimensions of these architectural and embodied dynamics, which despite their complex invisibility in the region and under-reporting in Western media are hyper-recorded by activists in Bahrain and distributed through image and video platforms such as Flickr and Youtube. My attention to this revolution is informed by my experience doing research in the nearby United Arab Emirates and my curiosity about the dynamics of the Bahrain revolution, which is under-examined by academics for a variety of reasons. This is, however, the only ongoing revolution in an Arab oil state since the beginning of the Arab revolts in January 2011. This paper will be based on fieldwork and textual, cartographic, and visual secondary and primary source research.

Sumud: A challenge to Sexual Colonial Power Techniques in Colonized Palestine

Lena Meari (email: lmeari@ucdavis.edu)

This paper explores the formation of a revolutionary subjectivity within the context of the colonial condition in Palestine. This revolutionary subjectivity with its ethical and political dimensions had been produced in the prison setting and specifically throughout the interrogation encounter between the Israeli security service (the shabak) and the Palestinian strugglers. The paper focuses on one aspect of this encounter: the means in which the shabak interrogators had deployed the issue of sexuality and the sexed body in order to subjugate Palestinian strugglers and the ways in which these techniques were re-signified and challenged by the Palestinian strugglers through the enactment of the practice of sumud.

She Resists: Body Politics Between Radical and Subaltern

Maha El Said (email: maha.elsaid@edcu.edu.eg)

In the shadows of the repressive Muslim Brotherhood regime, where the covering of the female body has become an issue of both popular and political debate, two Egyptian women chose to resist using their bodies. Making bold political statements, Alia El Mahdy and Samaa el Masry , made use of their female bodies as a means of resistance, breaking the power dynamics of social control over women’s bodies and mind in the Foucaultian sense. Although both women used their bodies as “a site for opposition to established power relations and ideological hegemonies” (Ian Burkit), the reactions to each of these women’s bodily being and bodily performance were extremely different: Alia el Mahdy, who posed nude and publicized her nude picture on the internet, stirred a havoc of criticism and was rejected by both the conservative Islamist and the liberal revolutionaries who described it as “too much” and “out of taste”. On the other hand Samaa el Masry, who performed a series of satirical belly dancing sketches was received with applauds and her seductive moves were perceived as resistance. She was embraced and hailed as an activist, and described as the new “miltant”. With 3,500 likes on her Facebook page, and over 300,000 views and shares of her Youtube clips, she offended many Islamists who filed over 50 complaints against her.

In spite of the fact that both acts were an act of mutiny and both women were accused of defaming Islam and tarnishing the image of Egypt, one was embraced by the liberal revolutionaries while the other was shunned. This paper aims at exploring the cultural appropriateness of each act as the reason behind rejecting Alia El Mahdi, who is rooted in radical western feminism, while accepting Sama El Masry as the subaltern feminist voice.

Framing and Gendering the Enigmatic Arabic Female Body: Conforming and Rebelling

Anoud Abusalim (email: aabusalim@aus.edu) & Abeer Al-Najjar (email: aalnajjar@aus.edu)

A statement of the body marked the beginning of the Arab Spring; Bouazizi’s body was used as a vital, or possibly a revolutionary, medium in the Tunisian revolution in December 2010. This medium of the body was not just employed in Tunisia; Aliaa Al-Mahdy’s blog , A Rebel’s Diary, that showed, in 2011, nude photos of her engendered one of the most viral and volatile public commentary, and to a large extent condemnation, in post-revolutionary Egypt. Right after the viral photos and vicious public attack, instigated by the majority of the Egyptian political parties, against Al-Mahdy, SCAF implemented “Virginity Examinations” as a tool to discourage women’s activism in the public political scene in Egypt. The scale of popularity of the stories involving the human body is evident in the numbers of views, comments and news stories surrounding the above mentioned stories

This paper examines the ways in which the human body was publicly gendered and framed in several Arab revolutions including the Tunisian and the Egyptian revolutions. First, the paper explores the enigmatic presence of the body, and in particular the female body, in the Arabic political scene: its use as a medium to express revolutionary views, and its exploitation and subjection by authorities. Secondly, the paper tracks differences –if any- in the authorities’ treatment of the female activists taking place since the early days of the revolution in Egypt and Tunisia till the Islamists’ arrival to power in the two countries. Finally, this paper examines the ways in which stories of the female body, such as the one mentioned above, were framed in the mainstream media and whether the public and journalists have provided alternative frames to the morality and social order one when it comes to the female body.

Shifting Borders, Gender Separatism and the Arab Spring: the Case of Egypt

Nadia El Kholy (email: nkholy@aucegypt.edu)

This paper presents a new interpretation of how women activists played a crucial role in the 25th of January Egyptian Revolution and have introduced new boundaries that have re-defined gender separatism in Egypt, in the Arab/Muslim world and in America’s perception of democracy with the new Arab Spring. The paper explores different forms of gender separatism, particularly regarding ways in which forms of segregation according to gender are implicated in formations of political and religious extremism. Globalization and the double oppression of Muslim women resulting from both neo-liberalism and religious fundamentalism, has led Islamic feminists (and I assume, Muslim women),to respond to these challenges. In particular, I will assess how they are contributing to the construction of a new worldwide civil society based on a culture of human rights and universal values such as democracy, social justice, freedom of conscience and gender equality and how they have created a new public space as a platform for their new identity. One of the basic premises of this new forum for Egyptian women was that there is a positive relationship between globalization, particularly the new information and communication technologies (ICTs), Muslim women’s roles, and the advent of democracy and human rights in Muslim societies. I will focus on only two main elements of my critique that are pertinent to my argument. One is that ICTs are not necessarily harbingers of equality or democracy and that technology can only transform Muslim women’s (and men’s) lives in meaningful ways if it enables a fundamental epistemic shift in how we interpret and practice Islam. The second is that struggles for equality within Muslim societies must also extend to struggles for equality for Muslim societies in the global political-economy. As I see it, the greatest impediment to building a democratic society is not just U.S. hegemony but the language of rights itself when it acquires the form of a secular universalism; it is therefore necessary not only to use this language with discretion but to contest it as well.

Seeking Counter-Hegemonic Discourse in Pious Muslim Women’s Justic-Based Political Activism in Turkey

Merve Kutuk (email: mervekutuk@gmail.com)

This paper examines justice-based political activism of Muslim women in Turkey with a particular focus on the AKP’s ten years in government. The literature on Muslim women in Turkey only concentrates on the ways in which Kemalist discourse marginalizes Muslim women as religiously-driven bodily marked differences and practices are seen as an anomaly in the modernization process, a situation I call ‘societal othering’. Practicing Muslim women are not acknowledged as completely meeting the prerequisites of being pious women due to their supposedly ‘inappropriate’ manners, behaviour, speech and even ideas in relation to Islamic framework by Islamist discourse as well. Thus, they are not equally recognized within the imagined boundaries of their ‘own’ social groups, a situation I term ‘in-group othering’. Even though Kemalist and Islamist discourses as disciplining mechanisms are contradictory in relation to their particular projects of woman’s self and body, these two discursive fields are in compliance regarding to masculinist attitudes towards Muslim women. Following from McNay’s conceptualization of agency as the ability to act in an unexpected fashion, I qualify ‘societal’ and ‘in-group othering’ leading to productive processes making Muslim women innovative to exercise agency. To investigate dynamics of subject formation processes that are informed by various identity affiliations and political positionings –which are always contested and negotiated, this paper aims to (a) show several debates and challenges among Muslim women activists themselves, (b) demonstrate the various ways in which these women define the Muslim self, and (c) grasp the extent to which their presentation of the Muslim self (or Muslim selves) hinders and/or reinforces, if any, social change in gender regime of Turkey, thereby to probe whether Muslim women’s activism is counter-hegemonic to the existent hegemonic discourses on women in Turkey.

A Contemporary Overview Of Women’s Activism Within The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood: New Spaces, Old Discourses

Erika Biagini (email: erika.biagini2@mail.dcu.ie)

The democratic elections following the overthrow of the authoritarian regime of Mubarak in Egypt witnessed the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood. This made more evident the considerable support that Islamist parties enjoy from the side of women and led to a renewed interest of female activism within the movement and its newly constituted political party, the Freedom and Justice Party.

This paper will first provide a theoretical framework for the investigation of women activism within Islamist parties. It will be argued that Islamist women activism derives primarily from the desire of those women to be active participant in a nation-building project which promotes an Islamic identity value-system as an alternative to secular and liberal ideologies. The paper will then provide an overview of the 2011 and 2012 Egyptian Parliamentary elections and will assess Islamist women activists’ roles and discourses during this period. It will be observed that despite the fact that the constitution of the Muslim Brotherhood into a political party has provided women with the possibility to expand their political roles, women’s interest remains strongly aligned with that of their male counterparts and thus detached from claims of gender equality.

Women Activists in the Arab Awakenings and Beyond: Dilemmas and Opportunities. Toward a Euro-Mediterranean Approach

Alessia Belli (email: alessia.belli46@gmail.com)

The paper focuses on women’s activists in Tunisia and Egypt during the so-called ‘Arab Springs’ and in their aftermath. Scholarly and political debates have often overlooked the role of women’s groups and networks in these political transformations: on the contrary, this contribution takes gender as a fundamental lens capable of generating and aggregating original knowledge and of offering new insights to design and implement creative strategies for both research and policymaking. Endorsing a bottom-up strategy by giving voice to ‘minorities within minorities’ is an important step to support and strengthen democratization processes, especially in view of solving new forms of conflict that may arise in the area. In this sense, specific attention will be given to religious identity as a factor for political conflict. European worries about the Islamisation of politics and the future of democracy in North Africa will be interpreted through the perspectives and experiences of Egyptian and Tunisian secular and religious women who participated in the uprisings. Moreover, these processes of socio-political mobilization will be read in a comparative way by linking them to similar dynamics underway in the majority of European countries (with a focus on Italy and the UK). Here, in fact, Muslim women activists are increasingly visible in the public and political sphere and are at the forefront in the battle for equality and justice both nationally and transnationally. Women's experiences and perspectives, in other words, seem particularly enlightening in offering new insights for the renewal of democratic theories and praxis in a Euro-Mediterranean dimension.

Libyan Women Post-Qadhaffi: Between Political Islam and International Development Agencies Gender Agenda

Sahar al-Naas (email: bmesahar@yahoo.co.uk)

This paper focuses on the dynamic between the International development agencies concerned with women's empowerment in Libya since the 17 February 2011 regime change, and Libyan women in Islamic movements, in both, civil society and the General National Congress. Moreover, The U.S, European Union, the UN and other international development organizations played a significant role in training and building the capacity of Libyan women toward the 2012 election, as well as putting pressure on the National Transitional Council (NTC) and the High National Elections Commission (HNEC) to include women in the political scene. In the 7 July 2012 election 32 out of 200 parliamentarian seats were won by women, as a direct result of the election system chosen by the NTC, known as the zipper quota or zebra list, in which women make 50% of all parties lists, and would be positioned at the top of the party list. Some Libyan women's NGOs benefited from the help and support the international development agencies offered, on the other hand, other women's groups and organizations, mainly those affiliated to Islamic parties, were hostile to the UN and international agencies gender agenda and conventions against violence and discrimination against women. I focus in this paper on how women of political Islam movement perceived, contested and challenged the UN conventions and gender equality agenda, within an Islamic framework.

The Personal is Artistic: Egyptian Women and the Revolution

Mounira Soliman (email: mouniras@yahoo.com)

Since the beginning of the 25th of January revolution, political change has been associated with artistic production and creativity. In fact, one of the characteristics of the revolution has been the blurring of boundaries between the role of the artist and that of the activist. In other words, many of the artists who came to be associated with revolutionary cultural production are activists who perceive their art as a means towards realizing political change. On the ground though, in Tahrir square, it is hard to determine whether their art informs their activism or whether their political engagement inspires their artistic production. This is further complicated with the added dimension of gender. Indeed, as women continue to struggle to retain a place in the square, and to resist efforts to exile them, a nationalist and a feminist agenda intersect and inform each other. In this paper I look at some examples that show the intersection between art and activism through the prism of gender against a historical and current background of political engagement in Egypt.

Going Back To the Roots: Egyptian Women Mobilise For a Continuing Revolution

Hala G. Sami (email: h22sami@gmail.com)

In Egypt, where half of the population is female (45 million), the 25th January Revolution very much depended on women’s key role. However, the Islamist regime which emerged in post-revolutionary Egypt discloses an authoritarian political system, which is not only attempting to marginalise women, merely relegating their role to that of hearth and home, but, like a ruthless juggernaut, it is gradually obliterating the idiosyncrasy of the Egyptian cultural identity. The paper proposes to discuss various examples of women’s activist resistance in the present Egyptian political arena. Significantly, many of the emerging resistant paradigms illustrate women’s resort to their cultural roots in order to subvert a subjugating patriarchal discourse. They draw on such cultural examples for resistance and empowerment, in the face of a regime that merely wishes to exclude them from civil society and hence, addresses them as hidden invisible entities.

Grassroots Activism and Resistance in Pre- and Post-revolutionary Egypt: The Case of Anti-FGM Female Activists in Upper Egypt

Solava Ibrahim (email: solava.ibrahim@manchester.ac.uk)

In January 2011, women stood hand in hand with men in Tahrir Square calling for their freedoms. Women's struggle for freedom in Egypt, however, neither started nor ended with the Egyptian revolution. This paper focuses on women's grassroots activism in the social sphere before and after the Egyptian revolution. The paper argues that such a revolution can only sustain if it builds on existing forms of women's activism at the grassroots which go beyond the narrow focus of political activism and which account for women's ongoing economic and social struggles in pre- and post-revolutionary Egypt. Using the case study of anti-FGM activists in Upper Egypt, the paper explores women's struggle to condemn and challenge a deeply rooted cultural practice, i.e. female genital mutilation, one which the newly elected Egyptian President, Morsi, himself has failed so far to publicly condemn. The paper adopts a bottom-up approach by documenting the struggle of poor illiterate women in a number of deprived villages in Menia governorate, Upper Egypt, to end the practice of FGM in their villages. The paper examines the dynamic processes of negotiation and contestation that these women initiated to challenge the embedded cultural practice, which in many occasions is religiously justified. Through grounded qualitative research and semi-structured interviews conducted with these women activists, the paper explores - through the women's voices -: (1) how and why do these women engage in grassroots activism; (2) what roles did religion and tradition play in reinforcing the hierarchal power relations in their communities; (3) which routes did these women take to challenge such unequal power relations and finally (4) how the political changes after the revolution have affected these women's initiatives. The paper concludes that by breaking the silence around this taboo, these women groups succeeded - through conscientization and collective agency - in promoting their own self-empowerment by 'changing from within' and ' changing with' other women. However, the threats from radical Islamists, the politicization of FGM and its association with the Mubarak regime as well as the lack of legal and institutional support to their cause pose new challenges that these women need to overcome in post-revolutionary Egypt.