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February 1, 2010

"The Steady Erosion of Women's Rights in Egypt"

In Now They Call Me Infidel, Nonie Darwish tells of growing up in a relatively secular and Westernizing Egypt in the 1950s, only to see the country take a sharp Islamist turn as the decades wore on. The experience led her to flee her native country, and eventually the faith of her birth, for the United States and Christianity.

Sometimes the level of freedom or liberty in a society is not obvious by simply looking around. Economic freedom, to say nothing of freedom of speech and press, cannot be easily discerned by simply walking down the street. But other times there are visible signs that make it painfully obvious where a society or nation ranks. We're all familiar with communist and Nazi propaganda posters and statues. Huge signs of the head of state are a sign of a cult of personality that is a telling sign of totalitarian or authoritarian societies.

These are still around, but in today's world we face a new threat to our liberties; a fundamentalist or radical Islam. One of the first things that happens in a society infected with that disease is the degradation of women's rights, and the most visible sign of that is the wearing of the veil, whether the full burka or the head-covering-only hijab.

Chester, over at Pajamas Media , has documented the degradation of women's rights in Egypt through four photographs sent to him by a friend. They show the graduating class of Cairo University in 1959, 1978, 1995, and 2004.

click on each photo to enlarge

Class of 1959

Egypt Women 1959.jpg

Class of 1978

Egypt Women 1978.jpg

Class of 1995

Egypt Women 1995.jpg

Class of 2004

Egypt Women 2004.jpg

Commenting on the photos, Mark Steyn says that

Whenever I give a speech on Islam, some or other complacenik always says, "Oh, but they haven't had time to Westernize. Just you wait and see. Give it another 20 years, and the siren song of Westernization will work its magic." This argument isn't merely speculative, it's already been proved wrong by what's happened over the last 20 years. Compare the Cairo University class of 1959 with those of the 21st century, and then see if you can recite your inevitablist theories of social evolution with a straight face. The idea that social progress is like the wheel or the internal combustion engine -- once invented, it can never be uninvented -- is one of the laziest assumptions of the Western Left.

Posted by Tom at February 1, 2010 8:45 PM

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The assumption here is that wearing the hijab automatically indicates repression is occurring. I'm not sure it's as simple as that. These are students after all - couldn't they be choosing to wear the hijab as a statement of their faith?

Also, what about looking at other indicators of women's emancipation? For example, according to this website, female enrollment in higher education continues to grow, and women currently make up 49% of all university students.


Posted by: Mylne Karimov at February 1, 2010 11:05 PM

Yes yes, Mylne, maybe the women wear the veil voluntarily. Such thinking reminds one of the "happy darkie" stereotype; "how can he be oppressed, he's always got a smile on his face when he says 'yes massa!'"

Funny, isn't it, how the left can excuse oppression of women in the Muslim world. The same people who will take up their protest signs at the slightest sign that their freedom of "choice" might be in the slightest restricted are completely blind to the oppression of the veil.

As the the link to the Egyptian State Information Service, well, you may as well have linked to TASS during a debate on the USSR. Even if more women are going to school, it doesn't change the fundamental fact that in an Islamic society women are second class citizens.

"...couldn't they be choosing to wear the hijab as a statement of their faith?" Except that it's not required as part of their faith. No, it's another tool that the men in that part of the world use to keep their women in their place.

Sure, some women have been conditioned to think it's simply their lot in life. Indeed, most have been so indoctrinated that they believe Allah requires it. Others are engaged in what Natan Sharansky calls the private doublethink of the dissident; secretly they object, but have learned to keep their opinions private. Is this "voluntary?" Not in the sense that you and I define the term.

I'll also give you that some Western women have converted to Islam, partially because they're disgusted with our own exploitation of women (think Victoria's Secret). But at the same time they're choosing to lose their freedom. Is this choice? is this "voluntary?" Again, not in the way you and I would define it. A tenant of the Western legal tradition is that you cannot give up basic rights. No one can voluntarily make him or herself a slave.

David Horowitz wrote about this attitude whereby leftists find excuses for Islamic oppression, and indeed in some cases ally with it in Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left.

It's bad enough that George W. Bush didn't take up the cause of women's rights in the Islamic world. That liberals who proclaim themselves the guardians of civil liberties in the West don't is inexcusable.

Fortunately, for whatever they think of U.S. foreign policy most liberals know oppression when they see it. What a shame, Mylne, that you do not.

Posted by: Tom the Redhunter at February 2, 2010 7:29 PM

You think the figures the Egyptian government gives for its higher education enrollment are false? It seems possible, I suppose - but it's the kind of thing that is fairly easy to check. I'd be surprised if they're engaged in systematic misinformation - Egypt is not North Korea. Then again, I'm willing to be proved wrong.

As for the left's defense of Islam, you have a point. A lot of liberals do tie themselves up in knots defending some pretty unpleasant belief systems sometimes. I'm not going to try to pretend that Islam and feminism go hand in hand. In fact as an atheist who believes in secular enlightenment values, I find the resurgence of Islam (and Christianity for that matter) quite depressing. That doesn't mean I'm going to pretend that all these new Muslim and Christian converts are being brainwashed.

But I find it interesting that you are so confident that you know what the true faith of Islam is. Is this something to do with scripture? I think we may be talking at cross-purposes.

For example, if you believe that religions have certain rules that are laid down in holy texts, and the way to practice the "true" Islam is to follow the Koran, then you may well be right to say that the Koran doesn't mention the hijab.

But I don't think religion really works like that - I think it's better to think of it as cultural practice. If you asked those woman why they were wearing the veil, they'd probably answer that it was to something do with their Muslim faith. If you then got into an argument with them, and tried to convince them that actually they shouldn't wear it because the Koran doesn't mention it and in fact you know better, I don't think you'd get very far.

I'm basically uncomfortable with these kind of "false consciousness" arguments - you're saying that women have been brainwashed to not know they are being oppressed, but you can tell that actually they are. It's the same as when liberals say that Americans really want socialised healthcare, even if most of them don't actually know they want it. Sharansky's theory that they are all secretly screaming inside may be right, but you have absolutely no way of proving that.

Posted by: Mylne Karimov at February 2, 2010 8:57 PM

Another thing I've just noticed. You are saying the hijab and Victoria's Secret are BOTH exploitative of women? It seems you have very particular requirements of what women are allowed to wear in order for them to avoid being oppressed!

Posted by: Mylne Karimov at February 2, 2010 9:08 PM

Oppression is a slow process.Like tiny seeds gathered and retained for the next planting. The time comes to plant and the earth is opened by the plow like the brain is opened to be fed information,knowledge and ideas. With care the seed is placed in the rich soil or inquisitive mind.The earth pushed over the seed and each day it is watered and fed much like repetitive idealisms are put in the brain.The seed pushes through the soil to reach for the sun and the brain reaches for the direction most common and familiar.The plant grows from the care given and the brain processes the only repetitive information.All revolutions simmered and bubbled for some time before fruition.Rome was not built in a day and oppression comes slowly with the consistant nuances of disapproval that become the demise in a subtle,effective oblivion to submission!
The plant grows from thethe

Posted by: L.Teymourian at September 7, 2010 11:50 AM

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