Tag Archives: orientalism

Mona: Why Do You Hate Us?

25 Apr

Women's march in Tahrir #April20

At any given moment in the Egyptian revolution, or the Arab Spring for that matter, the question of women or the role of women arises. I cannot recall the number of emails, and questions I usually get, mostly from foreign journalists, about the “role of women in the Egyptian revolution.” My answer is (if i ever answer at all) usually the same and consist of something like “women have been fighting in the forefront of the struggle paving the way to this revolution. They have been beaten, tortured, stripped naked, imprisoned, sacked from their jobs and much more just as much as men if not more including getting their virginity checked. However, they are not acting as one block of women, but rather as revolutionaries or ordinary people fighting for the revolution’s demands: freedom, dignity, social equality.”

It might take some aliens to not understand this, especially as an Egyptian, even for an Egyptian living abroad who visits Egypt a lot for some people. If any of these journalists who usually ask this question happen to have joined one protest or one strike, he or she would immediately know that women are the backbone of this revolution. In my experience, the most militant, radical, brave people I encountered in this revolution happened to be women. Samira Ibrahim, Aida Seif Al Dawla, Layla Sweif, Rasha Azab, Salma Said, Mona Mina, Mary Daniel, Tahrir girl, to name a few, not to mention all the mothers, sisters, and wives of martyrs and working class women.

This post is not supposed to convince you how courageous women are in the Middle East, or how they are fighting for freedom, minimum wage, social equality, or good education, because that is shown everyday through the heroic stories that the western press fails to cover, but Egyptians encounter them on a daily basis. You can view some stories of brave ordinary women here. This post is rather a response to the disgraceful, one-dimensional, article “Why Do They Hate Us?” by Mona El Tahawy.

Titles like “Why do they hate us?” can only describe Geroge-Bush dichotomies of “them” versus “us” paradigms, where the making of the “other” into a monster can only add to “our” vulnerability and righteousness. I never thought that this dichotomy could be used as an argument for feminism, but the astonishing Mona El Tahawy have found a way. In her article, she based her whole vague-over-generalized-orientalist argument of why women are oppressed in the Middle East to a simple reason of “because they hate us.” To give Mona the benefit of the doubt, as I skimmed through the title before reading the first paragraph about a woman so unmoved by sex with her husband, I imagined an article written on why dictatorships hate women or why exploitative systems hate women and turn them into objects, even if it is not about love or hate in my opinion, but I was imagining this to at least make the article readable for me after the disturbing title, the horribly chosen picture to accompany the topic, and the overt opening. Naive I was to think that Mona El Tahawy could write something I might slightly agree with given her history in writing about “women issues in the Middle East.”

Her sole argument on why women are oppressed in the Middle East, since this is a special place in the world where only backward thinking can be found, is because men and/or Arab society hate women. What is very troubling is her belief that she is the “voice” for so many unheard women, who are oppressed and beaten by their husbands or shunned by the patriarchal Arab societies. She is the beacon of hope for Arab Muslim women living the male-dominated Middle East forced to wear the niqab and do slave work at home. Not only does she believe that she is speaking for these women, but she believes that she is one of the few (if not the only) who is brave, eloquent, and educated enough to vocalize these suppressed voices to the Western media like FP, BBC, CNN, who are of course incapable to reach these suppressed creatures, Middle Eastern women.

I think the only factual thing Mona brings up is that there is discrimination against women more in the Middle East than in other countries, but she blames it on all the wrong reasons. She brings all statistics and backed-up research on how women are subject to unequal laws, genital mutilation, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and rape, etc. I am not minimizing or dismissing these facts at all and I do encourage and believe discussion about these crimes as healthy and the only way to move forward is by acknowledging the problem. Many who have criticized Mona’s article get accused that we are defending the actions of discrimination against women or simply denying it and that couldn’t be farthest from the truth in understanding the fundamental problem with Mona’s argument in the first place.

The fundamental problem of Mona’s essay is the context and framework of how she analyzes why women in the Middle East are oppressed and the only reason she could give is because men and Arab societies (culturally and religiously) hate women. This is offensive to most women I know, who read the article and shared the same view. Women in the Middle East are not oppressed by men out of male dominance, they are oppressed by regimes (who happened to be men in power) and systems of exploitation (which exploit based on class not gender). Having women in power in a flawed system will not “fix” the problem either. We had a women’s quota in Mubarak’s parliament, did that change anything for women in reality? It was all ink on paper. Even after revolution, women are consistently used for political grounds by crony political parties. Explaining why women are oppressed without touching on any of the historical, political, or economical aspects of Arab countries, which are not all the same as she tends to generalize in her article, couldn’t be more delusional than this piece.

The answer is in the picture FP used as a “sexy” caption alongside a sexist article full of disgrace to brave Arab women including one of the bravest in that picture. Did Mona El Tahawy ask herself, “what would this brave young girl who exposed an army think of what I write about her oppression?” I don’t think Mona is even capable of this thinking given her stance. Did this girl feel hated by those men in uniform because she is a woman? or did she feel betrayed by the men who were supposed to protect her as part of their duty? She was standing for social justice, freedom, human rights, she stood against an army for Egypt as a whole, men, women, Christians, Muslims, young, old, Nubians, and immigrants. It is hard to believe that if she had a choice she would only choose women because “they (men) hate us (women).” Mona, on the other hand would disagree. I don’t know how the girl felt, I don’t know how she feels about this article and nobody does except her.

I am not here to tell you how every woman in the Arab world, which is a very big divers place, full of all kinds of women, feel about men and about this article. I can only speak about my feelings and my experience. Mona El Tahawy’s article does not represent me. I am an Egyptian American Muslim woman, who was raised to Egyptian parents, spent all my childhood in Egypt, studied high school and partial college in the US and now living in Egypt since 2008 and I am happily married to an amazing Egyptian man, who loves me and doesn’t hate me because I am a woman.

Our society is far from fair towards many groups not just towards women. My fight and our revolution’s heart lay in this struggle itself, to have every Egyptian living a decent life, living a humane life, and for some to simply live. For decades, Egyptians in all sectors of society have suffered the iron fist and corruption of dictators ruling Egypt and still ruling them. This transcended through generations and found its place in almost every household and institution (with relative degrees). How can all this very complicated complex be summed into a zero-sum equation of men versus women, love versus hate? It is much more complicated than that, but Mona doesn’t bother to mention any of this, but portrays the Middle East as if it is an anomaly, where the only measure of women success or women equality is how many seats she got in parliament or if we will ever see a woman president of Egypt. Does Mona El Tahawy know that nearly 3,000 Egyptian women workers started one of the first Mahalla’s strikes (in the recent decade) in December 2006, when they started chanting, “where are the men, here are the women!” Which paved the way to the revolution that is inspiring and shocking to the world right now? of course that wouldn’t fit into the perception of the average American Foreign Policy reader, who is used to images of American soldiers with guns going to “liberate” Afghani and Iraqi women from Muslim extremists. Simply, Mona’s audience are neither Arab women nor most women who took part in this revolution. To give you an idea, here are some examples of responses to this disgraceful article. Some written by Arab women, who agree Mona only represents herself in that article.

Not Hatred, But Love! Dear Mona

Us and Them: On Helpless Women and Orientalist Imagery

Dear Mona ElTahawy: You Don’t Represent “Us”

I Don’t Really Think They Hate Us!

In response to Mona Eltahawy’s hate argument

On Muslim-Arab issues and the Danger of Aiding the Neo-Liberal Colonialist Agenda

Hatred and misogyny in the Middle East, a response to Mona el Tahawy

Oh, Mona!

Let’s Talk About

Debating the War on Women

Mona el Tahawy and the Transnational Fulul al Nidham

A Critique of Mona Eltahawy’s Perception of Misogyny in the Middle East

@BBCNewsNight Hypocrisy & Insults

16 Dec BBC NewsNight chooses Kissinger as the "expert" on Arab Spring

BBC NewsNight chooses Kissinger as the "expert" on Arab Spring

I was invited to be on BBC NewsNight on Thursday, 15 December 2011, along with Henry Kissinger, Tawakul Karman, Simon Schama, and Jeremy Greenstock to speak on the prospects of the Arab Spring. They emailed me the following questions to answer before the show, and I gave them a brief on my position on each: (copied & paste from the email here:

My brief answers were as following:

When I got on the show, which will hopefully be uploaded to youtube so I can posted here, I was faced with the most western-centric, orientalist, and racist point of view on the Arab Spring. Comments about the Arab spring ranged from “a cry for western democracy,” calling the Middle East “the Muslim world,” “Islamist threat to democracy and prosecution of minorities,” to posing “western technology as what made these revolutions possible.” It was impossible enough to bare Henry Kissinger’s deep voice on the other end of the line being asked as an “expert” on the Middle East let alone the Arab spring & “Islamist scare” they portrayed. Henry Kissinger?! The one whose exact polices ruined our country and many others to the ground?!! unbelievably stupid. I was going to explode out of frustration for not getting ANY chance to address these comments (insults in my opinion). I hardly had a minute all together to express my point of view or have any questions directed to me except 2 compared to the other guests, who dominated the already dominated western/oriental point of view on the Arab spring. The least any professional media outlet would have done especially speaking on the topic of “democracy” was to give an equal time to all the different speakers or the different point of views.

I was able to get in 2 sentences about the western (US in particular) aid to SCAF, who is leading counter-revolution and acting on the “prosecution of minorities” that other speakers wanted to label it as the “Islamist threat,” but I linked it that it is SCAF who is prosecuting minorities alluring to the Maspero massacre. I also added that the west has NO positive impact what so ever on these revolutions in fact we are going exactly against it.

I sent them an email afterwards explaining my frustration, and requesting to never be invited again on NewsNight as a guest. I do expect an apology and a response to my email copied & pasted below.

“BBC News Night

When you invited me on the show, I was okay to arrange my own ride in

the middle of the night when streets are not safe and activists are

being kidnapped by state government & army everyday to fulfill your request

of being a guest on the show. Secondly, I requested to be introduced

as “a revolutionary socialist activist” and you said no problem, but

Kristy Wark did NOT. I was asked by Jake Morris to give my opinion about

possible questions on the show, and I had no problem responding on the

spot with my opinion.

As the show went on, I noticed that you had total of 5 different

guests including Henry Kissinger, who if you had done any kind of

research or simply took my answers to your questions seriously, you

would know that my point of view is the exact opposite. YET, your

presenter Kristy Wark completely cut me off, and never gave me the

chance to get an equal opportunity as the other guests to express my

point of view. Please review the tapes and actually calculate the

amount of seconds i was able to speak compared to the other guests

when I have a complete opposite opinion of this very orientalist,

western-centric, racist discussion of the Arab Spring. If you saw that

i was too much or too “radical” for your racist/discriminatory show to

cut me off like you did, why did you invite me & not give me enough

time to express my point of view like others? or is it because i

didn’t follow the western-based argument about the “Muslim world” or

the ignorant “western technology” comment from Greenstock, so you shut

me up? I felt very disrespected for bringing me there in the middle of

the night to only frustrate me by not giving me a chance to speak. I

would have been much more comfortable sitting at home and not getting

the few seconds I got on the most insulting show on the Arab Spring

that i have ever witnessed.

Please do not ask me for any news night interviews again. Your entity

incites and affirms the western agenda that our revolution stands

against and if you are professional journalists you would at least

give all sides an equal opportunity to present their view, but you

chose Henry Kissinger (with all his history) to be more of an “expert”

on the Arab Spring (given how much time you allowed him to speak) than

someone fighting there and knows more about what is happening (given

why you invited me in the first place). The least you would have done

is an equal time to each speaker but you proved to me how

unprofessional you are.

Thank you for a night of deep frustration.”

Following day I received this email from deputy producer of NewsNight, Liz Gibbons:

This was my response:

“I am not changing anything about my blog, and you can sue me. Just

because you kept inviting me to report on what was happening during

the 18 days of Tahrir doesn’t give you any right to insult me in

return on the show and expect me to be okay with it. I felt

disrespected, and violated by the condescending tone and the whole

orientation of the discussion. All the feedback I got from those who

saw the show, completely agreed that I was cut off by Kirst Wark, and

you can check twitter for that. I can hold whatever opinion I have and

I know that you will never accept it because you are unprofessional

and your righteous indignation is the proof of it.”

I have no comment.

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