This week was one of stirring scenes from Egypt, spellbinding even to those of us who don’t follow public affairs closely: it careened from the January 25 Facebook-organized protests, with hundreds of thousands converging in Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere to demand that their leader relinquish power after 30 years; to the harsh, government-inspired “Days of Rage” of February 2; to Friday’s “Day of Departure,”with redoubled protests and open negotiations for the future. The names most often associated with these world-changing events were, of course, those of prominent Egyptian men, such as President Hosni Mubarak, nuclear scientist and popular opposition figure Mohammed el-Baradei, Army strongman and vice president Omar Suleiman and Mohamed Beltagui of the Muslim Brotherhood. On today’s chat shows, you’ll likely see those names tossed around as Middle East experts try to predict the future.
But what we’ll most remember is the women’s leadership that has evolved right alongside these protests —including human rights activist Nawal al-Saadawi, who speaks above about her return to Egypt years after being imprisoned and exiled by successive Egyptian regimes. Hundreds of images like these adorn the Women Of Egypt Facebook page. “The country’s sisterhood,” notes the Los Angeles Times, “has sparked a movement within a movement.”
Mona Seif, the graduate student whose Facebook and Twitter posts helped spark the uprising, telephoned to tell of the violence of February 2:
And then there are the women who’ve had the bravery and experience to tell the story— including two I was privileged to meet as classmates in journalism school, Al-Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh and Laila al-Arian of The Nation.
- Christiane Amanpour was in the front lines from the beginning, reporting that her crews were harassed by pro-government forces and scoring the first Western TV interview with Mubarak about the situation.
- Mona Eltahawy, 43, has in the past week suddenly become the one explaining Arab women’s democracy movements, often to pundits more likely to think of them they way Bill Maher did last week, as “women in beekeeper suits.”
- And we honor Shahira Amin, vice president of state-owned Nile TV, who resigned this week rather than participate in censorship about governmental actions.
“It is not surprising, ” writes Forbes reporter Stephanie Dahl, “that Egypt’s women have been standing solo in front of advancing police lines, leading chants in opposition to Mubarak and comforting younger Egyptians with tender care. ” She points to one of the photos from the Facebook gallery, showing a woman kissing a police officer. We agree with Dahl in the sentiment she expresses next: “These images are ones I hope the world remembers when this uprising is no longer on the front page of newspapers and the lead story on the evening news.” As we watch the upcoming weeks unfold, these are the people we’ll look to for explanation and inspiration.