An excerpt from our study guide compiled by Caitlin Crisp for “¡Viva la Revolucion!”, our Day of the Dead celebration …
What is known as the “Arab Spring” is a series of anti-regime uprisings that have swept much of the Middle East and North Africa. The first of these uprisings were started in Tunisia and have spread to countries such as Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. While the protests in Tunisia and Egypt were, as far as civil dissent goes, fairly peaceful, it seems that as dictators become aware of what can happen in their countries they have used force on an escalating scale to subdue the dissenters. While the West cheers on the rebels in these countries, one of the aspects that has confused many of the stereotypes the West holds regarding Muslim women in these countries is the amount of power the Middle Eastern women have in moving this uprising. Women are at the forefront of the “Arab Spring.”
The “Arab Spring” has proven to be a showcase for how much power women can have in the Arab nations. Part of this stems from Egypt, where a young woman, Aasma Mahfouz, called for a protest in Tahrir Square from her Facebook page. Because of her actions, thousands upon thousands of people turned up in Tahrir Square to demand the resignation of then president Hosni Murbarak. As a result of her call to action, Asmaa Mahfouz became the face of the Egyptian revolution.
In Syria, one of the more conservative countries, women have been an indispensable part of the revolution. Because of the more conservative nature of the country, women were slower to get involved. A part of their slow involvement has to do with the immense brutality that Bashar Assad is using to attempt to squash his opposition. This is a country where close to 2,000 civilians have been killed, approximately 12,000 people have been arrested and thousands more have fled to neighboring countries.
Despite the danger, the women have turned out en masse to fight for national freedom. For example, near the town of Bayda, women formed a blockade in the road shouting, “We will not be humiliated” as government soldiers and tanks attempted to establish a checkpoint because the secret police had arrested many of the men in their families. Additionally Syrian women have staged all-female marches in order to protest the government.
As in other countries and despite Syria’s conservative nature, women have found their voices in this revolution. In the face of danger, the women of the “Arab Spring” have stood alongside their male counterparts to demand a national voice of the people. Since the onset of the revolutions many women, like the men, have been beaten, tortured, tear gassed, shot, taken prisoner, disappeared and/or killed. Not to mention that dictators, such as Gadaffi, have ordered attacks on women in the form of rape as a military weapon. Women can be seen on the front lines of this revolution, not just feeding, organizing and providing medical care for people, but also physically attempting to restrain soldiers and putting themselves in harm’s way. As a result, the women of the “Arab Spring” have inspired nations and become the voice and the heart of the revolution. Standing shoulder to shoulder with the men of their country, staring down fear and danger, the women of the “Arab Spring” are a force to be reckoned. They have tasted equality and freedom, heard their voices and seen the results.