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Egyptian women deepen revolutionary struggle

Published Jan 8, 2012 10:54 AM

All eyes have again turned to Cairo’s Tahrir Square. This time the women of Egypt have set an example for the rest of the world.

Some 10,000 women of all classes and walks of life took to the streets of Cairo on Dec. 20 to protest the military’s misogynistic, violent assaults on Egyptian women. Many demanded that the military step down immediately.

The largest women’s protest in 100 years loudly told Egypt’s military rulers, “We have no fear!” and marked a deepening of the revolutionary struggle.

Many demonstrators carried a photo of the incident that sparked the enraged protest — an unconscious woman being dragged by soldiers on Dec. 17, her head scarf and abaya (black robe) ripped from her body to expose her blue bra. “Egypt was stripped,” the women’s posters read. Videos of the assault, which show a soldier stomping on the woman’s bare chest, went viral.

Women take back Tahrir Square

Women were in the front lines during the 18 days of protests and battles to overthrow Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and remain at the front in recent demonstrations calling for the military to step down. This has taken tremendous courage.

The Dec. 17 assault of the woman demonstrator was just the latest sexist abuse by the military meant to humiliate, degrade and terrorize women so that they and their families would not protest. In March, government-hired thugs groped and beat women demonstrators calling for a larger political role for women. That same month the military administered pseudo-medical “virginity tests” to arrested women demonstrators.

The military fueled further outrage by showing no remorse for the Dec. 17 assault and by actually blaming the beaten and stripped woman for not wearing more clothing under her abaya.

These actions sparked the massive and historic demonstration of enraged women who took back Tahrir Square.

Organized on Twitter and Facebook, the protest began with a few hundred women. “The crowd seemed to grow at each step as the women marched, calling up to the apartment buildings lining the streets to urge others to join them. … ‘If you don’t leave your house today to confront the militias of [army chief] Tantawi, you will leave your house tomorrow so they can rape your daughter,’ one sign read.” (New York Times, Dec. 21)

Protestors chanted, “Where are the soldiers. We are here!” and “Freedom! Freedom!” When they returned to the square, they were 10,000 strong. (Al Ahram, Dec. 21) Mothers brought their daughters and sons.

Clinton statement seeks to divert struggle

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a statement condemning the Dec. 17 military attack as “disgrac[ing] the state and its uniform.” This was more a response to the mass anger of Egypt’s women than to the assault. Clinton’s remarks are a spin meant to separate the U.S. government from the military, to which it gives $1.3 billion annually.

Clinton did not condemn the Egyptian military’s systematic harassment of women before Egyptian women expressed their anger. Nor did she oppose the constant violence against women and their economic marginalization under Mubarak, whom Washington financed for 30 years. In 2005, several female protesters were stripped naked and assaulted by police-linked thugs in an effort to terrorize women and keep them away from political participation. There was no criticism from the U.S. then.

Clinton’s statement was not motivated by concern for Egypt’s women any more than the U.S. government’s opposition to Egypt’s recent closing of U.S.-financed nongovernmental organizations reflects a concern for human rights. Washington is trying to maneuver with all sides in this ongoing, profound struggle in the hope that it can keep Egypt in the imperialist camp, no matter who gains power or electoral office.

NGOs ‘part of U.S. combat team’

Washington immediately roared its objection when the Egyptian military shut down three NGOs financed by the U.S. government on Dec. 29. The National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute have ties to the U.S. Congress and are described as “democracy building.” Freedom House, the third group, trains journalists. Closing them violates Egyptians’ human rights, the Pentagon said.

This is a falling out among thieves. Egypt’s generals want to maintain their perks. Washington wants to use the NGOs to build a pro-U.S. secular opposition to the generals in case they can’t hold on to power. These NGOs are meant to develop an alternative pro-U.S leadership that implements Washington’s policies.

This is the way U.S.-backed NGOs worked in Iraq, where women bear the brunt of two U.S. wars and a U.S. occupation. In “City of Widows: An Iraqi Woman’s Account of War and Resistance,” author Haifa Zangana quotes former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who in 2001 called NGOs “an important part of our combat team.” Zangana sees the U.S. NGOs as “civil society organizations intended to be the ‘soft occupiers.’”

The goal of the U.S. government is to hijack the people’s struggle in order to keep Egypt in the imperialist camp. It is especially concerned with continuing the blockade of Gaza and with keeping Egypt in the peace treaty it signed with Israel, which many feel violates Egyptian sovereignty.

Occupy movement shows solidarity

In marked contrast, the Occupy Wall Street movement has shown real solidarity with Egyptian women — solidarity based on common interests. At a Dec. 20 demonstration in Hartford, Conn., one sign read, “Oppression of Egyptian People = Oppression of Occupy Wall Street.” Another pointed out that the same U.S.-made tear gas rains down on protesters in Cairo and Oakland, Calif.

Women of Occupy Wall Street issued a statement on Dec. 21 condemning “the systematic targeting, marginalization, silencing and violence against women by anyone, especially the military authorities.” The statement praised the courage of Egyptian women, adding, “Women are powerful and essential forces in revolutions. Your power and courage [are] incredibly inspiring.”