• Suhaib Salem/Reuters

    Arab Spring

    The Year’s Most Dangerous Doc

    ‘The Square’ is the definitive documentary on Egypt’s uprising, but Jehane Noujaim tells Andrew Romano what she had to endure to get it made.

    The best documentary of the year may also have been the most dangerous to make.

    When 50,000 young Egyptians occupied Cairo’s Tahrir Square on January 25, 2011 to protest the fascist regime of Hosni Mubarak, filmmaker Jehane Noujaim (she made 2004’s documentary Control Room, about the broadcast network Al Jazeera) was more than 2,000 miles away, in Davos, Switzerland, awaiting the arrival of Egypt’s leadership at that year’s high-flying meeting of the World Economic Forum. “’If the country erupts and I’m with them there, filming, then that will be an interesting story, because there will be a lot of people in the square with their cameras,’” Noujaim thought. “But of course none of the leadership showed up.”

    Permalink
  • Security forces arrest a pro-Morsi female protester during clashes in Alexandria November 1, 2013. Security forces detained 22 women members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a security official said on Friday, fuelling tensions days before deposed President Mohamed Morsi and 14 other leaders of the Islamist group go on trial. (Reuters)

    After the Arab Spring

    Egypt Targets Islamist Women

    Twenty-one women connected with the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested and given harsh sentences for a peaceful protest. Why they refuse to be silenced.

    Gehad Mowafi, a soft-spoken 20-year-old university student, is eager to get out in Egypt’s streets and protest again.

    “I want to raise my voice as loud as possible and chant against oppression,” she says, as she sits in her family’s apartment in a poor neighborhood of the coastal city of Alexandria.

    Permalink
  • Theater

    Egypt’s 'Vagina Monologues'

    A Cairo theater group is breaking taboos with a daring series of sketches that tackle dating, sex, and sexual harassment in Egypt today.

    A naked mannequin stands center stage. Clothing is strewn across black plastic crates that lay haphazardly on the floor. Two actresses are the only variables in the simply-staged bedroom.

    One woman stands with a strip of bright red tape across her shoulders, with another strip just above her knees. She announces that “This is the space that is off-limits” to her boyfriend. As she moves through her monologue, the two strips move as well—one migrates across her breasts, while the other slides to her mid-thigh. Continuously they move closer together, until they overlap, and the space disappears completely.

    Permalink
  • Activist from the women's movement FEMEN, Aliaa Magda Elmahdy of Egypt poses during a protest in front of the embassy of Tunisia, in Paris, Wednesday, June 5, 2013. (Francois Mori/AP)

    Fearless

    Egypt’s Pioneering Nude Protester

    With her performance art and activism, Aliaa Elmahdy is putting herself at risk to raise the issue of women’s rights in Egypt.

    In 2004, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the controversial Somali-Dutch politician, wrote the script for Submission, an 11-minute film highlighting the subjugation of women in Islamic societies. Within the Netherland’s growing Muslim community, the film immediately provoked outrage. Among other offenses, Hirsi Ali’s film projected sexist Koranic verses on the nude female form. Three months after the film premiered on Dutch television, its director, Theo van Gogh, a relative of Vincent van Gogh, was found murdered in the streets of Amsterdam, his head nearly severed from his body and a note secured to his chest with a knife, promising that Hirsi Ali, a supposed apostate from Islam, would be the next victim.

    After Van Gogh's murder, Hirsi Ali's formerly sedate life as a Dutch politician was besieged by death threats. To mock Islam—and especially its holy book—is to invite a particular type of risk, especially for those who question not just gender roles within Islam, but the religion’s most basic tenets.

    Permalink
  • Egyptian protesters calling for the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi gather in Cairo's landmark Tahrir Square on July 3, 2013. (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty)

    Silver Screen

    Inside Cairo’s Cannes for Women

    There were constant reminders of Egypt’s chaos at the sixth annual International Women's Film Festival, but honorees and audiences remained undaunted.

    There were constant reminders of Egypt’s volatile political situation throughout the sixth Cairo International Women’s Film Festival. The entrance to Falaki Theatre, which hosted many of the festival’s screenings and its closing ceremony, is unmarked, well secured and directly in front of a high concrete wall abruptly blocking the road—one of many erected by security forces in downtown Cairo to restrict access by protesters to various government buildings and foreign embassies.

    Other films were shown at the American University in Cairo buildings directly off Mohammed Mahmoud street, a thoroughfare which links Tahrir Square to the Interior Ministry and has been the site of numerous protests and clashes over the past three years. Walls of the schools, shops and burnt-out buildings along its route are adorned with murals and graffiti illustrating Egypt's revolutionary history.

    Permalink
  • Part of a comic strip of Deena Mohamed's character 'Qahera.' (Deena Mohamed )

    Kickass Comics

    Egypt's Hijab Superheroine

    Meet Qahera: she wears the veil, she has special powers, and she really, really doesn't like to be sexually harassed.

    On a fine Egyptian day, a woman who walks alone in the street is harassed by a man who has been following her. “Nice curves, gorgeous,” he says, before his hand reaches for her bottom. The woman turns around, and in shock, she screams “Stop him.” Police question her story based on the fact that she’s wearing Western clothes. Cut to a woman in hijab being sexually harassed. She is Qahera, Egypt’s newest superhero and the story does not end well for the harassers.

    Qahera is not your typical superhero. For starters, she is a veiled Muslim woman who helps other women in distress, most importantly, in situations involving sexual violence. She carries a sword and has amazing fighting abilities. She is also fed up with misogyny, sexual harassment and “white savior”ideologies.

    Permalink
  • Pakistani schoolgirls, who were displaced with their families from Pakistan's tribal areas due to fighting between militants and the army, chant prayers during a class to pay tribute for five female teachers and two aid workers who were killed by gunmen, Jan. 3, 2013. (Muhammed Muheisen/AP)

    Bravery

    Women Waging Jihad For Peace

    Muslim women are too often portrayed as downtrodden victims or supporters of extremism—but they are at the heart of the push for peace in places like Egypt and Afghanistan, says Samina Ali.

    As we commemorate the 12th anniversary of 9/11, an important but often overlooked question to ask is: What have Muslim women been doing since 9/11 to promote peace and justice?

    It’s a question few think to ask because—according to our popular stereotypes—Muslim women are either too in thrall to dangerous narratives of extremism or too downtrodden and subordinated to play an active role as agents for peace.

    Permalink
  • Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty

    Old Wives' Tale

    How To Be A Man In Modern Egypt

    Farha Ghannam explores how Egypt's women are often as invested as men in maintaining traditional norms of masculinity.

    Husbands And Wives: Love And Domination?

    The concerns that Zaki’s family have been expressing over his relationship with his fiancée and her family, especially his willingness to give into her demands and show too much affection and dedication to her, are rooted in an anxiety about his relationship with his future wife. In addition to a husband’s role as the provider for his wife, the relationship between them is one of the most important elements that could enhance or undermine his standing as a man, especially during the early years of marriage. A husband’s ability to assert his domination and the wife’s acceptance of (or at least appearing to accept) this domination significantly reflect on a man’s standing. He should show that he is able to shape his wife and her conduct while clearly resisting her attempts to influence his ways of doing and being. Since sisters and mothers are fully aware of the strong role women play in the production of men, they are especially sensitive to the relationship between married relatives and their spouses and usually seek to limit the role of a new wife in affecting the conduct of her husband as much as possible. An examination of one of Zaki’s older brothers, Muhsen, will illustrate some aspects of this relationship. Muhsen is a particularly good example as he was frequently used as a point of reference when criticizing Zaki’s conduct. Unlike his brother, Muhsen was considered by his family to be a real man. Besides being a good provider financially, he had been exemplary in his ability to assert himself in front of his wife and in-laws.

    Permalink
  • An Egyptian woman types on her laptop prior to the start of a demonstration opposing president Mohammed Morsi at the Presidential Palace on December 18, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty)

    Entrepreneurship

    Leaning In, Cairo Style

    Female entrepreneurship is booming in the Middle East, where the tech sector has more women-run startups than Silicon Valley, writes Christopher M. Schroeder in his new book, ‘Startup Rising.’

    Despite the Western stereotype of Middle Eastern women as marginalized and oppressed, over a third of startups in the Middle East are run by women—a higher percentage than in Silicon Valley. Technology is democratizing problem-solving across the entire demographic and economic spectrum of women in the Middle East. According to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), both mobile and computer usage in women-run businesses are about the same as men, approaching 90 percent, and over two-thirds regularly access the Internet.

    Access and outcomes are found in pretty surprising quarters. Ruth Messinger, a legend in the international development community who works with more than 200 grassroots social change projects around the globe, explained to me, “Give a woman a cellphone and the capacity to recharge and watch them build a kiosk so people will pay them to make a call. Allow women access to an anonymous cellphone number where they can report abuse, have their stories anonymously vetted, justice can be offered. I know one entrepreneur in India who built this service, and they see themselves not only as protecting human rights, but offering a form of journalism to a community that has no newspapers. Others in Africa and the Middle East are offering similar services to combat corruption.”

    Permalink
  • A female supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood protests in support of deposed President Mohamed Morsi in Cairo, Egypt on July 7, 2013. (Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty)

    Revolution?

    The Muslim Sisterhood

    Will Egypt’s fresh bloodshed quiet the newly established female voice? By Sophia Jones.

    Hager El Saway is an assistant lecturer of dental radiology at Cairo University. When she speaks—whether in a lecture hall or over a coffee—she has a striking presence. Under the Mubarak regime, when she was denied the right to work at the university because of her religious beliefs and political affiliation, she filed a lawsuit against the government—and won. Hager is a proud female member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that has long been seen as a boys’ club of conservative, bearded men.

    Following the 2011 revolution, Hager, like many other women, took on a more public role within the organization. But now, with the ousting of Mohamed Morsi and subsequent bloodshed, Islamist women say they are afraid the Muslim Brotherhood will be pushed underground once again, inhibiting their newly established voice.

    Permalink
  • Women sit in Kugulu Park where dozens of Turkish youths continue their protest, in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, June 28, 2013. (Burhan Ozbilici/AP)

    Lifting the Veil

    In the Shadow of Tahrir, Taksim Simmers

    Egypt's protests have taken center stage this week, but back in Turkey, activists are growing increasingly wary of Erdogan, writes Souad Mekhennet.

    “Lifting the Veil” with Souad Mekhennet

    Taksim and Tahrir: two squares where, in recent weeks, women stood side by side with men to participate in protests against the ruling party, against the party that won in so-called democratic elections.

    Permalink
  • MAHMOUD KHALED/AFP/Getty Images

    SAY AGAIN?

    Quotes Roundup: Turmoil in Tahrir

    Sexual assaults and abortion legislation captured the world's attention.

    It took social media to save lives in Egypt. As the country was swept up by the huge protests in Tahrir Square that eventually forced the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi, sexual violence seemed to run rampant. The organizations Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment (@OpAntiSH) and Tahrir Bodyguard (@tahrirbodyguard) mobilized volunteers via Twitter. They spread the news about areas where rapes were occurring, set up hotlines, and even asked members to spam people’s phone numbers when they tried to clog those hotlines. So far, @OpAntiSH reported of 180 known sexual assaults during the protests, according to Daily News Egypt, with more than 44 on June 30 alone.

    Suzanne Buckley, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, is pretty upset at North Carolina legislators. On the heels of the fight against abortion legislation that made Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis a superstar among abortion supporters, North Carolina added its own abortion restrictions to a state bill. Just like Texas, it could shut down many abortion clinics. The kicker? It’s part of a proposed anti-Sharia law.

    Permalink
  • Virginie Nguyen Hoang/AP

    The Sex Attack Plague

    Sophia Jones on life as a female reporter in Cairo.

    This week was the week that restored my faith in Egypt for reasons entirely unrelated to the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi.

    As the end of the 48-hour ultimatum drew near, thousands of protesters flocked to the presidential palace awaiting the army’s statement. The light was slowly fading and the crowd was so dense that, even now at dusk, I could feel the sweat on the man next to me. Normally, this is the moment my body’s “fight or flight” response starts to kick in; when I plan an escape route or try to find a place in the crowd where families or Egyptian women have congregated. It is a fact—not just a fear—that women are regularly victims of rape and brutal sexual assault during protests in Cairo.

    Permalink