Yasmine El Rashidi interviewed Egyptian American activist Mona Eltahawy in the last issue of Bidoun. In her introduction, El Rashidi shares her misgivings about the meeting, recalling some of the uproar caused by Eltahawy’s article ‘Why Do They Hate Us?’ and the abuse she received from diverse sources she received on its publication. I proceeded with caution
I had a big problem – I agreed with everything Eltahawy said. When she compares the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia to apartheid, tells America to back off so that Egyptians can decide their own destiny, and accuses the Muslim Brotherhood of abusing their halo of religious sanctity for political manipulation, I’m shouting ‘right on, sister!’ on the Tube.
But I’m not Egyptian, not Arab, not a Muslim, so it’s not for me to make these arguments, tempting as it is, for a non-religious western feminist, to shout them from the rooftops. I guess part of the vitriol against Eltahawy comes from the fear that westerners will hear only negative stereotypes, stoking the fire of Islamophobia and acceptance for the ‘humanitarian’ foreign policy rhetoric cloaking interference that serves corporate interests in the Middle East’s energy resources.
All I can say is, I know there are millions of women whose voices DO belong in the discussion, who are still being denied the right to speak, to participate in politics and even more basic protections, by structural and overt oppression and violence. I passionately want to support and empower them, without imposing my own idea of what freedom looks like. Yet Eltahawy says ‘the international community has to stick to its conscience, because there are international standards by which you have to treat human beings’. If we can agree on that (and, precariously, we have), then we should be able to back Eltahawy’s fight. Clearly not all Egyptian, Arab, Muslim, or Middle Eastern women agree with her, but she is battling for their right to say so.
I’m in solidarity. I’m behind Mona.