By Fériel Berraies Guigny
We attended this panel last October 2012 at the Women’s Forum for economy and Society of Deauville. The issue of the post Arabic Awakening and it’s disastrous consequences on the people of the region, seemed quite crucial. Unfortunately up today, it is for us, women and young people an ungoing painful process. As we seem to have entered a no way out situation. Yet, it’s important to speak out loud of what’s to become of our “revolutions”
Post Arabic spring : undergoing a desert storm ?!
By Fériel Berraies Guigny
Has the arabic spring become a desert storm? we all remember the day Ben Ali left, few days after it was Mubarak turn to leave. We all then had the feeling that we were faced a global movement, an uprising rebellion that spread in the Arabic world.
It was called, the “Arabic spring” and that is part of the Arabic delusion today. Because at the beginning of the revolts, there was never any trace of any Islamic movement.
Today the islamists are in power, some of them have been democratically elected, other abuse power to keep the control.
They are the main force in our societies today. They capitalized under revolution legitimacy but they never were able to respond to the demands of the people. Today there is NO EMPLOYMENT, NO RESPECT, NO FREEDOM. The revolutions have been high jacked by fundamentalists.
Women’s rights have faded away, in opposition to the other dictatorial regimes that even if corrupted, gave WOMEN RIGHTS.
These revolutions have they been called so “wrongly” Arabic awakening ? as we could easily say today: that we are not going through a wakeup call situation, but rather a nightmare Arabic awakening !
Here are a few lines of the main speeches of the participants of the panel, each one of them tried to give their view of what really happened and what’s to eventually become of these political tsunamis or turmoils that shook our region. Turmoils that did not bring the dignity, democracy and economical rest we all expected for women and youth. On the contrary, it created social despair and economic disaster for our countries.
Dr Iman Bibars, Head director for Africa and Middle East of Ashooka Egypt “ the islamists won because there was no leadership in the revolutions” !
Working to ensure that social entrepreneurship for women and youth contribute to inspire positive and social change in Egypt and in the region; Dr Iman Bibars is known for her work on the field. She is an activist and supported from the beginning the arab awakening in her country. She was personally involved during the revolution on Tahrir Square. She was speaking with the activits, hearing and sharing their stories.
The fundamentalist won in Egypt, not because they were hugely elected, on the contrary to Tunisia “ I worked on the streets, and am not an academic” explained Iman Bibars. They were very organized in comparisons to others, they do have access to a lot of people, but the several reasons why they won is because firstly there was no leadership in the revolution “ I went to the Tahrir Square not to hunt down Mubarak in the beginning, it is because our kids were being killed, we were not used to our kids being killed” !
Supporting the people was the start, but there was no organization no leadership. The islamists were never in the Square “there were not there, I was in the street the 12 days out of the 18 th days, I never saw them” !
The islamists had a deal with the army from day 1. They also had an incredible amount of money, each village cost them 10 000 dollars a day. Five years of salary, food and rice for the poor people was given. And finally, they had religious slogans such as “ If you don’t vote you will go to hell” ! even the coopts the Christians ended up voting for Hisb Ennour, the salafists.
Annick Cojean journalist and correspondent for le Monde. France “ Libyan women feared rape during revolution »
She started her career with le Monde at the age of 23 and she is still working there today. She writes just about everything from the crippled people to Lady Di, to the situation of women in Libya. She likes to portray people and situations. She is the President of the Association Albert Londres and she received a prize from it, in 1986 about her essay on the memories of the Holocaust. In September 2012, Annick Cojean released “Les proies” the preys, explaining how Kaddafi would use beauty parlors, political parties and schools to find women to enroll, in order to make them become sex slaves.
What happened to women in Libya during the revolution?
in Tunisia we could see women fighting and going in the streets, even when repressed, they were still very present, speaking out loud close to men their protests. In Egypt as well, they were present at the Tahrir Square. But in Libya, they were not that visible. “At the end of the revolution, I went back to Lybia to inquire about women” explained Annick Cojean. It was mainly considered a men’s war in Lybia, but Lybian women if not very visible did their share, protesting, helping in hospitals, raising money and giving them during check points. They stole medicine to help, cooked food. Drove cars with the injured or kids, or with women that have been raped. Lybian women did not fear for their lives, but mostly from being raped “ it was something that I discovered very surprisingly” explained the French journalist.
Rape was common there, it was used by Kaddafi militians and army and himself. For Annick Cojean it was difficult to write about the subject, too taboo and because if the victims were exposed they would be rejected by their family. There was thousands of rapes, and reports today acknowledge that. The victims who confided to Annick Cojean, unveiled the fact there Kaddafi who always played the protector and the feminist, was in reality forcinh very young girls to become sex slaves. The female guards around him, were in fact his harem. There was a whole system of sexual corruption in an incredible conservative society “ it was a weapon Kaddafi used in Schools, universities, villages “ he used sex to dominate women but also male related wives. He wanted the wives of his ministers and political opponents, even when he had Ministers of other African countries, he would try to get the wives “’ he wanted to be the king of the kings of Africa” ! to dominate. Rape and sex are such a taboo in that country. He was also raping also men, and if one of them dared saying something they would be killed or dishonored.
Tom Porteous. UK Deputy program director at Human Rights Watch “ the arabic spring is a marathon not a sprint” !
Based in Washington DC, he joined the HRW in 2006. Tom Porteous is the deputy program director at Human Rights Watch and is based in Washington DC. Porteous has a background in journalism, diplomacy, and UN peacekeeping. In the 1980s and early 1990s he was a freelance correspondent for the Guardian newspaper, the BBC, and other media, first in Cairo and later in Berlin, Algeria, and Morocco. He worked in UN peacekeeping operations in Somalia and Liberia. He also served as conflict management adviser for Africa in the UK’s Foreign Office from 2001 to 2003. Porteous studied classics at Oxford University.
The results of failed development programs in the region led to the revolution delusions. This is the beginning of an era and in the Middle East. The events of the last 18 months in Tunisia, Egypt, Lybia, throughout the arabic world show that we are entering a new path “ this summer for the first time in Egypt, we had a president elected by civilians” he happened to be of the muslim brothers. A few weeks later this president removed General Tantaoui, a historical move against the Egyptian army.
What is happening in the region is historic but it is also a very complex situation that is still going on. It’s a marathon not at sprint! In the light of that International institutions like mine, there should be caution and we must have an apercu of reality “ the moments of greatest hope are also the moments of greatest danger” !
The people are still in great hope, but great danger, like for the thousands of people killed in Syria, and they are killed because they are thriving for freedom and dignity. Hope is to be built, as we must install societies that respect the citizens and the rule of law, and promote and protect human rights.
But there is also three fundamental fears:
The fear is to maintain the status quo to going back to old systems “ Mubarak system” and it is subsisting in Bahrein where there was an uprising, which was brutally repressed and also in Saudi Arabia where women are regarded as legally like children not even second class citizen. In many other gulf countries and in Iran, this system subsists.
Second fear : chaos and conflict, this was the fear that fed the old systems. They are right to some extent, in Syria we do have terrible conflicts and we have it in Libya as well.
The third fear: the transitions will they succeed in Egypt or Tunisia? Will they be run by autocratic Isla mists? And what if they are actually no better then what went before!
In terms of what to do when we address the all three categories of fear: address Human Rights organizations : document human rights abuses and get it out in social medias to disseminate the informations.
Repressive regimes cannot keep it secret anymore. Bring the informations to the United Nations, to the Criminal Tribunals, to NATO. We can make then the difference and bring them to the governments. Of course the US and the EU have less influence today because of their appalling role in protecting the old regimes.
Marwa Daoudy Syria “the revolutions were about karama”
Marwa Daoudy is Departmental lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations (DPIR), and the Middle East Centre (St Antony’s College). In 2011-2012, she received a teaching and research fellowship from Princeton University to join the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs as visiting scholar (on research leave from Oxford). In parallel to her academic work, she provides strategic advice and consultancy to multilateral organizations in the private sector: Middle East peace negotiations for UNDP etc
For the Syrian lecturer, it is crucial to try to understand the elements that triggered the revolutions in the region, as the roots of the discontent could explain the challenges of the past that are still present today. From the challenges today we are faced with this question “ why is the desert storm taking place in the region after that the biggest hope turned down into delusion” what could change that eventually ? For Marwa Daoudy it is important to replace it in the right contest “One should always put the Arab spring or the arab awakening in the cultural and historical context, depending on how one wants to call it and however he wants to see it. Still it was as a very important and powerful movement.
“There is no blue print, one must really look at the roots, each case was specific, each one has a specific response” she added. However the common element was the call for justice and dignity. Social and political injustice was the root of the problem. It was mainly about karama, restoring people dignity vis à vis very oppressive systems. Then it moved on as it became more important, as a decision to change the regimes. The region was characterized by the HAVE AND THE HAVE NOT. Despite of economic liberalism, there was no opening to societies. Mohamed Bouazizi gesture was very symbolic; “he was voicing his protest about unemployment, despite of being educated” of course this spoke to many people of the region. 1/3 of the Syrian populations is living under two dollars a day, people felt like not being part of the system. The feeling was also that these corrupted regimes were benefiting from western protection. So it was not a sudden revolt, it grew with time and as injustice became more and more important. There was a general feeling of injustice with unresolved issues like the Palestinian question, the continued colonization of the territories with the support of western powers. They were also rising against the destruction of Iraq; the war against Gaza in 2008, the war in Lebanon etc Clearly there was a cultural resistance that was built. People felt for years that they were victims of a system that could not change. They became empowered; still today they are resisting to very brutal armies in different contexts. It was an opportunity for change and restore their dignity and up to today, they are trying to protest against the new Islamic powers that took power.
Sofia Bouderbala Deputy Chief editor responsible for Africa at AFP
Worked for a number of years in Africa. Had an office in Kinshasa, from 2005 till 2008 covered different conflicts in the area ( Kivu and Kinshasa) came back to Paris, then back on assignments in different African countries, before being appointed for north African countries. She went appointed in Tunisia during the jasmine revolution. Sofia who is half French and Tunisian, met her country then for the first time. The islamists were never part of the Revolution, they did not take any risks, if today they are in power, it is simply because they took the power democratically. But today, they are employing violence and corruption to keep the power. We must stay on our guard : the religion and islam cannot change the rule of law. We must reject any patriarchal interpretation against women.
We have an internal process to change, caused by the perception of our region by the West, who has been traditionally stagnant. Because of the religion, the orientalist perception being tough to change unfortunately. But the Arabic spring is the proof that the western beliefs about our region are no longer true or compatible. It’s a bottom up approach that turns often in conflicts. The interpretation of Islam should be in the hand of people themselves and not political groups. We need to make a difference and religious populism does not mean political islam!
If today islamists took the ground it is because they have western support, and islamists aim is to change into a secular region the MENA REGION. We need to be careful on how the transition period will be handed. A new constitution is a great danger as well, because we are developing a new social and political pact between citizens. Women and men are the different components of the society, we should not grand difference of treatment. In Tunisia under Jebali, we have only 2 women Ministers out of 25, when traditionally Tunisia have had very important amount of female Ministers.
Writing the new Constitution will be crucial and this is why the debates are taking place, New or Old Constitution? The new agendas should bring a healthy debate, the islamists should have a say in the society, however they should not be unfilled by external powers that give them money to stay.
In Egypt, the issue of trafficking of female minors is to be seriously considered as well, should that be a discussion? And the role also of women rights being framed ? It has to be compatible with Islamic jurisprudence. This is sending the wrong signals to women and societies.
Our martyrs did not die for a high jacked KARAMA.