Why does the counter-revolution target women and Copts?

Hala Shukrallah, Wednesday 9 Mar 2011

The timing of the recent violence perpetrated against Egypt’s two most visibly persecuted groups comes as no surprise considering how their rights were abused by the previous regime as way to prop up and legitimize its existence

Christian women
Christian women demonstrate in front of the Egyptian Television building (Photo: Reuters)

It is no wonder that the now underground secret police and the thugs of the former ruling party are focusing their efforts towards two of the issues and groups made most vulnerable by society in the past، and therefore the more easily mobilized against. To look at what has happened in the post week after the incredible and still mind-blowing victory of the revolution, we need to see the different elements that have created so vile a picture as the one we are presently seeing.

Not only are Christians being attacked, but their churches are being burned down after both Muslims and Christians stood, fought and died together in Tahrir, where images of solidarity between Egyptians of different creeds, between men and women moved not only the rest of society, but the whole world. Is it a wonder that those two specific elements are the ones being attacked now by those who waited till people went back to their homes to strike at the very heart of the revolution and its very foundation?

Yesterday, I was part of a demonstration organized by the coalition of women’s rights organizations for 8 March, International Women’s Day. This year, the theme was women and democracy, commemorating women’s struggles in general for a democratic society. The world looked towards Egypt to see the impact of the revolution on the struggle of women for their equal share of rights in a democratic society that they had helped bring about.

The demonstration was a few hundred, falling far behind the million that some unknown person (at least to the coalition of organizations) had called for. The number, or lack thereof, was understandable, since people had very little time to organize themselves, having been involved throughout the month in daily demonstrations and sit-ins and having just witnessed the formation of a new government which had been – at least partly – the direct result of the revolution. The prime minister’s request for a reprieve from demonstrations for a couple of weeks to take stock of the situation led many to stay at home.

In addition, the coalition had been attempting to meet with the prime minister to call for a greater presence of women in the cabinet. This reflected itself in a statement issued by the coalition and in an attempt at requesting a meeting with the prime minister. Needless to say, the meeting never happened and the coalition members were only able to give their statement to his administration. This coalition, which is part of a coalition front of over 150 NGOs, has been working together to formulate a position regarding the rushed coming elections and referendum. So, it had not all been peaceful and quiet at the front of women’s rights fighters, who had to adhere to the date of the march in less than ideal circumstances.

The women’s march started from in front of the press syndicate and ended in Tahrir Square, where they were joined by independent participants from different walks of life: university professors, students and artists, as well as men who had joined the march in solidarity with the demands of women for their full participation as citizens and as a reflection of the revolution’s slogan of freedom, democracy and social justice. Statements and leaflets called for a revision of discriminatory laws, including the promulgation of laws against sexual harassment, the formulation of a new constitution along with a participatory process as well as the postponement of parliamentary elections.

This march, which started with the hope of fulfilling the dreams many had fought for and had so clearly envisioned during their struggle alongside men in Tahrir, ended by the vicious attack of a few hundred thugs who brutally attacked both female and male demonstrators, both verbally and physically. The question that remains, was this the work of ‘ordinary’ conservative Egyptians who all of a sudden found themselves in Tahrir Square, or was it the work of the unholy coalition of the runaway secret police and National Democratic Party thugs?

In my humble opinion, it was a combination of both, though the organization and orchestration must be credited to the the latter. But going to the beginning of the article, is it really surprising that the thugs and security police (who have a particular vendetta) should pick out the two most vulnerable groups in society. Vulnerable in the sense that society has made them constantly the object of attack, the scapegoats for many of the social ills. This has long been the game that the government and other conservative forces have played.

We have spent the last forty years listening to anti-Christian, as well as anti-women, propaganda disguised as religious teachings and robed in the threads of piety. The media played a pivotal role in creating of Christians an enemy within in the minds of many Muslims, through the spouting of fatwas which relegated both women and Copts to second class citizens in the name of religion. These issues have been prevalent in the political propaganda of religion-based parties who have based a significant portion of their political propaganda, especially in their earlier years, on the basest of human feelings: the degradation of another human being and the deprivation of their rights based on their difference, either of creed or gender.

The ruling party benefitted from the cracks created in society which helped channel anger – which would otherwise have been directed at the real source of people’s grievances – against easier targets, with all concessions to the religion based parties been on those particular issues, or what are referred to as “cultural based” issues.

The past few weeks have revealed just how deeply entrenched the security services are in the conspiracy to oppress and terrorise Christians in order to foster their support for the former dictator. We have heard in the past few days some groups of fundamentalists stating that they are against this revolution because there were women participating and that they are against democracy which is haram (forbidden). We now know that these groups have been working hand in hand with the security services; indeed, what would make them break that alliance now? What we are up against is a clearly mapped out plan of the counter-revolution which has taken as its main target the country’s Coptic Christians and any socially vulnerable group. The objective: create confusion, chaos and terrorise as many groups as possible in order to facilitate the return of the old regime in the coming elections. Their power continues to be in the side battles. The solution: make the side battles central to the main arena of struggle.

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