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Drafting a New Story: Women's Rights in the Middle East

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Category Archives: Commentary

Source: Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights

26/05/2011

(Cairo, May 25, 2011) The revolution of the 25th of January, 2011 was not born out of the moment, but was the result of a long struggle of all political and civil forces in Egypt. Women participated in all phases of this struggle and bore serious risks to confront the former regime and its security armory. This year, the 25th of May comes after the great revolution in which women participated to its success. Today marks the day in which women paid the price on the day of the referendum to amend article 76 of the constitution in 2005.

The 25th of May 2005 witnessed the rise of many voices of the Egyptian opposition by the announcement of a protest and criticism of what was described as – the fake change which forged the will of the people – on the so-called referendum to renew the presidential term of the former president. Young women and men and activists were at the forefront of those who gathered in front of the press syndicate and the judges club.

Despite the huge propaganda and use of all the resources of the state to support the play of the referendum, tens of young men and women worried the security forces and the ruling party to the extent that they decided to use more oppressive methods. They used a new security approach against the young women and men participating in the demonstration that caused the psychological feeling of defeat. The physical and sexual attacks targeted all people who protested or tried to protest against the fake referendum conducted by the state. All demonstrators were targeted, with a special focus on women and girls who were sexually harassed.

The militias of the National Democratic Party practiced before the eyes of all security forces the severe oppression from the very first moment of the attack on the demonstrators. The security forces – at the beginning – intentionally surrounded the demonstrators, severely pressured them while their back was against the wall, then split them – violently – into small separated groups.

Members of the security forces promptly dealt with the demonstrators in these small groups by direct orders of the officers who pushed them to cruelly beat the demonstrators and to sexually harass the women and girls. The orders of officers included verbal abuse that can provoke every free person. The security forces sought to kidnap prominent figures – of both sexes – from the demonstration, took them to the side streets to beat them, and then made them disappear in the buses of deportation, or in near police stations.

Security forces used the soldiers of the Egyptian central security forces who came out in civilian clothes, concentrated on the sexual harassment of women and girls by violently harassing their bodies, tearing their clothes, and removing the veil of veiled women, in addition to dragging them on the ground by their hairs; as for women or girls who tried to escape, they followed them and incited thugs to surround them to fulfil what they had begun. The women who could stop a taxi were forced out after they had horrified the driver to fulfil what they had begun. If they resorted to a shop or a residential building, they were surrounding it and breaking through with direct orders from the officers.

The message that the police and the former regime wanted to deliver at that time was that sexual harassment is the destiny for women who will participate in reform and requests of democracy.

It is worth mentioning that the victims of this day reached 13 female activists. Many of the private Egyptian and international media and blogs said that some thugs attacked female journalists, political activists, beat them, tore their clothes and sexually harassed them. In addition, a number of female journalists and activists, victims of what was then named “black Wednesday” reported to the general prosecutor what they had been subjected to. However, the general prosecutor then issued a decision to dismiss the investigations in the incident due to the failure of knowing the perpetrators.

At the end, the investigation was dismissed in this case due to the failure to know the perpetrator. The general prosecution ignored the witnesses, images and videos that demonstrated the attack!!

The dismissal of the investigation resulted in the statements presented by some activists to the African Commission on Human & Peoples’ Rights which is affiliated to the African Union, since 24 organizations from the civil society presented a claim with the number 323 in the year 2006 (323/2006) in the name of 4 female journalists and activists who had been subjected to attacks. The claim included charges against the Egyptian government; that it violated the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which was signed by the Egyptian government and became integral and compulsory to the Egyptian legislation in March 20, 1984. The journalists syndicate, many writers, activists and human rights organizations also condemned the incident and called for the resignation of the interior minister and for the trial of the people responsible for it.

Although these severe incidents occurred, they did not impede Egyptian women from resuming their efforts in the political work. In the revolution the Egyptian women stood side by side with Egyptian men. Their bodies bore what had been borne by men’s bodies, by the violence of the security forces of all its types beginning with the sticks, and tear gas bombs to live and rubber bullets. There were women injured and martyrs.

Women shaped human armors and stood in the popular committees. They experienced the battle of the camels, and confronted the thugs of the NDP. At that time they were not concerned about being women or men, mothers or young women, Muslims or Christians; they were just remembering that they are Egyptians.

As the acts of women were not new for them, and were not separated from their historical national role played over ages for the renaissance and liberation of their nation from different types of authoritarianism, women’s role in this popular revolution must not ignored. The price they paid as Egyptian citizen must not be omitted. It is also unacceptable in any name or under any type of guardianship, either political or social, that women are excluded on the political stage in the coming period, which is full of national challenges for all of us as Egyptians, women and men.

The achievements of the Egyptian women, which reached a minimum level of citizenship, were obtained after a long struggle for which they paid a high price. They were not granted from a ruler or a ruler’s wife, as said by people who want to forge history and cancel the Egyptian awareness. Instead, these achievements of the Egyptian women affirm that women are on their path to equality and human rights.

We sought to achieve real participation in decision making, and equal opportunities that ensure to every Egyptian female citizen and every Egyptian male citizen to carry out their duties towards their nation under a new civilian constitution that cancels all types of guardianship and distinctions and ensures the complete rights and equality for all. All we desired is empowering women, who are half of the society, to resume their role as Egyptian citizens to ensure their access to broad and comprehensive types of the meaning of democracy.

The Egyptian society as a whole and afore them the national figures and the military council are requested to support and help the victory of women’s rights as part and parcel of human rights. We also desire the removal of the obstacles to their participation in the decision making and wish that the required measures to ensure this are taken.

(There is no democracy without women’s participation, and there is no women’s participation without democracy)

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Check out the blog Saudi Women Driving for some of the latest stories from the Kingdom featuring the work of women’s activists!

By Dina Karam
Originally published by Sawt al Niswa, May 3, 2011

Who’s that girl supposed to be?

I wake up and look in the mirror to see the reflection. Somehow it is not me, or what I think should be me. My body also feels heavy, another weight to handle.

This idea came about slowly, of what I guess I should look like. Much like Beirut after the war; slowly reconstructed into a patchwork of functional and less functional pieces.

I don’t fit into what I think is thought of as pretty. But perceptions are signs of the times. Constantly measured, labeled, balanced into a prototype of a girl who is just one image. So simple, it’s easy, an archetype, a clear map, an icon, of sorts, of beauty. Immutable, like the political leaders whose posters we veneer and like to think of as eternal guiding lights.

I do not know really where the image came from, but she is daring, super confident in her sexiness, like she’s conquered all the people who dared not to be attracted to her. Isn’t that rather a contradiction, though, to the notion of beauty? And although her eyebrows seem like paint, she has pout-y lips that look like they’re practicing the word “O”, and something not so alive adorns her expression; sometimes maybe, long ago, people would have thought her vulgar.

With my funny walk, questioning eyes, big divided teeth, a longer nose, a funny voice, I am not in line with this poster girl, but an outlier. A statistical exception from the rule of a perfect hypothesis: how beauty should be.

I am also not a particular consumer of “Instituts de beaute.” They seem to sprout like the “khadarji” (vegetable grocers) at every corner of these city streets. Like a must-stop pit-stop, asking me “Did you not forget something?” The few times I’ve done my nails it felt like trying to waltz while being trapped in a straight jacket, forbidden to use these precious glazed hands. A male friend, not the type who’s much into appearances, once told me that my feet looked like I had just stepped out of a cabin in the woods. Because I had no nail polish on; and it was summer. Apparently toes can carry the most alarming politically incorrect messages. Check yourself, sisters!

No, I also do not like to go to the hairdresser, in fact I hate the blow-dryer, and the small talk of what the best looks are like. Beauty – aghast – is political! Yes, take that 14-ers and 8-ers, you have company!

The “coiffeur” likes me though, and says I’m his favorite client, even though I tell him some of the styles cooked under those scissors and gun-hair dryers look like they are copies of that dog they call poodle. I told him about a super idea I really think he should look into: It’s called “Instituts de après-beaute” or “Post-beauty institutes.”

But spring is out and along with the akidenyah fruits sprouting along the branches and the sudden sweet warmth invading the morning air, you see a lot of nose bandages also, sported with a high head by boys and girls, along with the red eyes; marks of a brutal transformation. Along with the big billboards advertising plastic surgery devices and victorious body parts. The battle of appearances has begun, for the big summer sun is unforgiving and sees all imperfections.

Apparently, to graduate and fly from the state of an “un-becoming” caterpillar to the much-vaunted butterfly in the Lebanese Absolute Republic of Beauty, you should (in order of importance):

1. Do your nose by age 16.
2. Permanently erase the traces of Middle Eastern brows – think laser beams – then tattoo – yes, tattoo – your eyebrows into perfect semi-circular arches.
3. Buy colored lenses, if you have the misfortune of having dark eyes.
4. Consider breast modification; after all, your bank can help.
5. Consider pouting your lips – with some kind of acid.
6. Wear 5-inch heels to school, university, work – because it’s such a good work-out.
The whole industry of plastic surgery, beauty institutes, hair salons, nail bars, make-up people and society magazines (for the final results) forms a big chunk of the GDP, a vital chunk of an economic ecosystem feeding and employing many. In addition to the brain drain, sectarianism, and about ten thousand out-migrants each year, beauty is also made in Lebanon.

So I would like to call for a National Pajama Day, whereby everyone would go out in the streets in their pajamas in the state they just woke up in – no fixing yourself up in anyway, not a single hair combed. We’ll call it the “rebellion of the pajamas.” After all, the revolt of “les sans-culottes” overthrew a kingdom.

This post was originally published by The Adventures of Salwa, a sexual harassment awareness group based in Lebanon.  Written by Alex Shams, it tells the story of one man’s commitment to changing attitudes about the permissibility of sexual harassment in the Middle East.  He has gone on to launch the blog Qaweme Harassment as an open forum for stories about sexual harassment and as a platform for Beirut’s “harass map,” cataloguing incidents of harassment across the city.  Check out his post below!

It’s funny how sometimes in life you feel like you see everything, but later realize in fact you can see nothing.

Our experience of the world is shaped completely by how the world perceives us, and even the most basic ideas we might receive as obvious and unchanging- how it feels to walk down the street, for example- are all extremely dependent on who we are, what we look like, and how we are perceived. This, I think, is obvious to many people, and particularly for many women, but as a man I spent many years wholly unaware of the idea that every aspect of my daily life and my daily experience could and would be drastically different if I was not perceived by others as a biological man. Privilege is something truly blinding when you have it, but painfully obvious when you don’t.

It was one, hot Egyptian summer some years ago when I finally began the process of confronting my privilege. Studying in Cairo, I had arrived and spent a week on my own before starting classes. One of the first nights, I went out with a fellow student who I had met in my first class. For me, Cairo’s streets were exhilarating and liberating- a million people out at once walking and yelling and talking and screaming and smoking arguile and doing everything twenty-four hours a day was shocking and beyond exciting to me.

To say the least, I was eager to enter Downtown at night and be soaked up in it’s liveliness with a friend. As we began our walk, searching for an old restaurant in Downtown’s alleyways, I became quickly aware of the fact that these streets were not so liberating for my friend. Suddenly, I came to absorb the fact that 50% of Egypt’s population was NOT cruising these streets, and my friend was a part of that demographic that did not feel particularly “exhilarated” by crowds of thousands of men staring and itching to offer disgusting remarks of approval.

I realized that the week I had spent walking Downtown, feeling liberated and alive and imagining that I was seeing everything this city had to offer, was a week of complete blindness. I had no idea what it was like to experience this city as 50% of the population, and of the world, experience it, and words like harassment were not even a part of my vocabulary. Everything I had experienced in life had been experienced with a blindfold of privilege. I needed to rethink everything I had ever imagined were “how things were.”

The years since that summer have involved a lot of listening, a lot of trying to understand, a lot of reading, and a lot of getting angry. I will never know exactly what it feels like to be objectified and sexualized and subjected to verbal harassment and sexual harassment and the fear of sexual assault and the revulsion women feel on an ongoing basis. And as much as I listened to friends vent and fume over experiences they share with me, the fact is that my presence would deter these men from engaging in their demeaning games- meaning I would never be able to fulfill my silly, faux-gallant urge to punch someone in the face.

The fact is that as a man, and as an ally, I have to recognize my role is not in defending women or punching harassers (not that my fists would do much). Women don’t need me to defend them, and there’s no reason they should- women can defend themselves pretty damn well fine without me assuming a man needs to step in.

My role, as a male ally, is to spread awareness of the problem with other men, and make sure they recognize that Harassment, verbal and physical, is NOT okay and there is NO reason to sexualize or attack a human being merely for daring to enter the public sphere. As an ally, I must be constantly beginning conversations and entering into topics which I know many men, blinded by their privilege, will disagree with me on or blow off. It doesn’t matter if these conversations are uncomfortable, as 50% of human beings cannot go on with their daily life without being made to feel uncomfortable for the simple reason that they are women. As an activist, and as a feminist, it seems pretty damn reprehensible and misogynistic to prioritize my own momentary discomfort over the constant discomfort of billions of human beings who happen to be (mostly) female.

This is why I started the blog Qaweme Harassment. Tired of merely being able to offer sympathy to bad story after bad story, and having converted most of male friends to feminism, I decided to act and work with the Adventures of Salwa create a place for people to share their experiences as well as a way to talk about what works in terms of combating harassment. In addition, I wanted people to be able to chart where harassment was happening and visually recognize it as a phenomenon that our entire metropolis, regardless of religion, race, sect, gender presentation, etc is dealing with. And thus was born, Qaweme Harassment.

Contact: Alexandra Zimmerman, +1.202.595.3160

The American Islamic Congress today welcomed the news that Osama Bin Laden has been brought to justice by US Special Forces. Executive Director Zainab Al-Suwaij issued the following statement:

“It is a sad truth that one man’s death can represent a step forward in the progress of human relations. But in the case of Osama Bin Laden, Americans take comfort that our military has at last served justice to a man who terrorized the United States, as well people of all backgrounds around the world. In fact, Bin Laden and his followers have massacred and maimed tens of thousands of Muslims.

“The world may at last be free of Bin Laden, but the danger he represented has not gone away. The ideology he embodied and promoted is still out there – and we must do everything in our power to combat it. Muslims and Muslim-Americans in particular have an important role to play in this struggle, standing up unequivocally against terrorism and for individual rights.

“Bin Laden’s death fittingly comes as new bursts of freedom are emerging in Muslim- majority countries around the world. Dignified nonviolent struggles against tyranny and in celebration of individuality are a powerful rebuke to the threatening forces of Bin Ladenism.

“The American Islamic Congress was launched in the wake of the terrible attacks Bin Laden orchestrated on September 11, 2001. Founded with a commitment to challenge radicalism and promote human freedom at home and abroad, the American Islamic Congress today recommits itself to the struggle to build a more tolerant and free future.”

The American Islamic Congress is a civil-rights organization promoting tolerance and the exchange of ideas among Muslims and between other peoples. With the motto “passionate about moderation,” the organization leads initiatives around the world and has offices in Washington, Boston, Egypt, and Iraq.

Originally Published by CNN, May 3, 2011

Answering today’s five OFF-SET questions is Maria Ebrahimji, who along with Zahra Suratwala, edited the new book, “I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim.”

The book features essays by 40 women—doctors, engineers, journalists, mothers, students, politicians, and academics–who explore what it means to be a Muslim woman in America.

Ebrahimji is CNN’s Executive Editorial Producer and manages a team that is responsible for guest coverage and story planning for all of the network’s special events and breaking news programming. She is a member of the Asian American Journalists Association and serves on the board of the Atlanta Press Club.

In the book’s first essay, journalist and blogger Yusra Tekbali is a staff assistant in the office of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. A constituent phones and asks the origin of her name. Tekbali answers: Arabic. There is a grunt and a dial tone. Tekbali writes, “Sometimes, it feels like I am racing against a clock that always reads 9:11.”  

How common is that experience—and what is the affect of that kind of suspicion, if not prejudice?

For many American Muslims, including those born here, 9/11 was an awakening to our identity and to the idea that Muslims were now the new “other.”  Yusra’s experience is not uncommon and many of us have felt some sort of prejudice against us at some time in our lives.

In some cases, these experiences have more to do with lack of understanding and education about what Islam means and how we practice it, rather than pure intellectual and emotional hate.

Fortunately, in the ten years since 9/11, there are many more American Muslims who are working in civil society and government. Hopefully their presence alone will help to dispel what I call an “otherness” epidemic that seems to be our country’s natural reaction to fear and the unknown.

Why do many American Muslim women choose to wear “hijab”—the traditional modest dress, include a headscarf—and what are the challenges in doing so?

Some women choose to wear the hijab because of their interpretation of Islamic guidelines.  Some women wear it in order to be closer to God. Others wear it purely because they view it as the utmost form of modesty as prescribed by God in the Quran.

Many of the women in this book see the debates other countries are having around the niqab and wonder how something so fundamentally basic can be so politicized. I think the benefit of living in America is that we are all afforded the right to choose how we dress and present ourselves in public.  This is why you see so many different interpretations of modest dress within American Islam.

Several of the women in the book discuss their view of hijab and several, like me choose to not wear it at all. I think given the heightened security in this country after 9/11, there is an obvious scrutiny surrounding anyone that covers fully, but the women in this book understand this and are aware of their responsibilities to cooperate and to practice their faith.

Hebah Ahmed (whom you have had on your program) wears the niqab, has a Master’s degree in engineering, and participates fully in public life, though she has chosen to work from home and home-school her children. Hebah is an example of someone who is acutely aware of the (mis)perceptions her choice of dress might cause but continues to positively advocate for her choice and the respect of those around her.

Mariam Sobh is a blogger and radio commentator in Chicago whose dream it is to be the first hijabi television news anchor in America. She hasn’t gotten there yet, but continues to advocate through her HijabTrendz blog and through her writing and acting, that her talent should be judged before her scarf.

Both of these women have their own challenges but neither is unwilling to face them.  And both are facing them as American-born women who truly understand how to interact with society and bring about change from within. They refuse to be the “other” in their own country and that is what makes their contribution so great.

In your essay in the book, a world-savvy Sheikh in Yemen advised you to consider staying home more, letting go some of your career and finding “a good Muslim husband.” It led you to ponder the question, “Am I Muslim enough?” Have you followed any of the Sheikh’s advice? How far along are on the journey to answering your own question?

You know, the Sheikh was right, but only about one aspect of what he said.  I did need to pare back/slow down the pace of my life, but only to preserve my own sanity, not to find a good husband!

I think since that trip to Yemen, I’ve come a long way in becoming more comfortable with my identity as an American Muslim woman. I don’t believe that compromising any aspect of my talent, my passion, or my career is necessary in order to fully fit into my faith. Today, I sit very comfortably in my Islam and no longer ask myself if  “Am I Muslim enough?” but rather, “How can I be a better person?”

When you think about the assumptions that you have heard from people once you explained that you are Muslim, what is the one thing you want to explain to non-Muslims?

For some women in this book, their identity as a Muslim is very visible, in that their hijab evokes their faith connection.

For others, like myself, our faith is not so apparent, and we prefer it this way. In my essay, I talk about the concept of “taqwa,” which is mentioned in the Quran over 200 times. Taqwa by its simplest definition, is “God consciousness,” and I would say this concept can be applied across any religion.

So the first thing I would say to non-Muslims is “let me show you what we have in common, rather than what it is that divides us.”

TIME Magazine poll issued last year revealed that 62% of Americans don’t even know a Muslim. I’d say to non-Muslims, take time to get to know one, and in turn, to my fellow Muslims, I’d say take the time to get to know someone outside our faith as well. It is in these interactions that a new “normal” is created.

So many people from different countries and backgrounds, with different beliefs and customs, come to America and change who we are as Americans. From your point of view, what impact are Muslim-American women having on the country?

American Muslim women, especially those of my generation, are really coming into our own and impacting the conversations, the debates, and the dialogues happening across our country.

We are no longer in grade school, too young to engage, and/or still under the guidance and care of our parents. We have emerged into the public sphere as professionals and citizens, and are contributing more to our communities than previous generations have.

The women in this book represent a true kaleidoscope of backgrounds, ethnicities, upbringing, and interpretation of Islam that you see across the United States- a diversity within Islam that I venture to say you will not find anywhere else in the world.

The women of I Speak for Myself represent the fields of engineering, medicine, politics, literature, anthropology, media, fashion, entertainment, law, science, and business.  We are defining for ourselves what faith, feminism, fashion, and national identity mean to us. We are not allowing others to define our individual and collective narrative.

As cliché as it sounds, we are truly “speaking for ourselves” and I believe this is the greatest impact we can have in building bridges and not allowing ourselves to fall prey to the “otherness” I referred to earlier.

We recently came across this wonderfully insightful piece on the Arab Spring, despotism, and gender liberation on the blog Kabobfest.  Give it a read!
By Andrew
Originally Published by Kabobfest.com, May 1, 2011

A young woman protests the treatment of one her relatives detained in Lebanon’s Roumieh prison

I remember when Amnesty International accused Egyptian soldiers of arbitrarily detaining women protesters in Tahrir Square and subjecting them to “virginity tests.” The cruelty and degradation to which these women were subjected is indicative of the broader misogynism and patriarchy that exists within Arab societies – phenomenon that have often been exploited by Arab despots.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that Arab men have some sort of inherent proclivity towards misogynism. To be sure, patriarchy and misogynism are universal phenomenon that affect communities across religious, ethnic, and geographic lines. However, in the context of the “Arab Spring,” ending discrimination against women must be a part of the broader revolutionary agenda. If not, protests sweeping the region will have been rendered useless, and the problems that continue to afflict our respective Arab communities – namely political despotism, civil repression, foreign occupation, and poverty – will only worsen.

The Arab world has known its fair share of women revolutionaries. For decades, Arab women have been the cornerstone of popular movements, organizing their communities within a politically progressive framework. And while many of these women have not been recognized as revolutionaries in the traditional sense of the word, their day-to-day activities – like the management of underground schools during the first Palestinian intifada in the process of maintaining a functional civil society – were integral to long-term movement building and sustaining Arab communities’ social fabric in the face of neo-colonial western hegemonic forces. From Um Khalil to Soha Bechara, every single one of these courageous women has had to overcome significant social barriers in their pursuit of national liberation and broader social justice. Considering that traditional gender roles make it difficult for Arab women to work within the public sphere, it is important to highlight the kinds of sacrifices Arab women are often forced to make in order to become effective political activists, organizers, and leaders.

Soha Bechara published her memoirs in a book titled, My Life for Lebanon. She spent ten years inside of the Khiam torture prison after she attempted to assassinate Antoine Lahad, the general of Israel’s proxy South Lebanese Army (SLA). During that time, Bechara never once betrayed her loyalty to her fellow Lebanese Communist Party (LCP) members, and refused to give up any additional information on resistance activities taking place against the Israeli occupation and the SLA. Her willingness to sacrifice, dedication to the Resistance, and steadfastness in the face of such brutality is representative of the strength, poise, and bravery Arab women have brought – and continue to bring – to national liberation and social justice movements throughout the Arab world.

As Arab leaders continue to greet popular protests against their undemocratic, despotic regimes with wanton violence, protesters should turn to Soha Bechara’s story for inspiration. In the years leading up to her assassination attempt on Antoine Lahad, Bechara underwent a personal revolution that reflected her nuanced understanding of the systemic consequences of Israel’s occupation of South Lebanon. At the age of 15, she swore off love and relationships for the sake of her commitment to the Resistance. According to Bechara, “Like all the other girls of my generation, I wanted to have a boyfriend, and I dreamt of having a married life and having a family and children. But all that was impossible because of the pressing circumstances we were living through; I thought then that if pepole could sacrifice themselves for personal ends, why should they not do so for national reasons?”

The point here isn’t to discourage rebels and protesters in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria from enjoying romantic relationships. Rather, the fact that Bechara felt pressure to choose between being in a romantic relationship and fighting on behalf of her nation is significant, as men do not generally feel pressure to choose between their nation and having a family. Additionally, Bechara’s decision to sacrifice her comfort and independence for the sake of national liberation is more about her repudiation of traditional gender roles than it is about swearing off interpersonal relationships altogether. In fact, Bechara took inspiration from other women around her that had already embraced a life of resistance: “I’m a peaceful person by nature, but when Sanaa Al-Mehidly, an 18-year-old Lebanese girl, blew herself up as an Israeli patrol was passing in 1985, that shocked me and made me ready for the struggle.”

For Bechara, the Resistance wasn’t an abstract idea; it was a way of life that defined her very existence. Rather than rejecting the reality of Israel’s occupation and ignoring the circumstances that made a “normal” life impossible, Bechara opened herself up to the possibility that a life of struggle was better than a life of fear and intimidation under occupation. To an extent, this is the same realization hundreds of thousands of Arabs make each day as they take to the streets in protest against their respective despots. Although not physically occupied by a foreign power, the same sense of despair Egyptians felt under Mubarak compelled them ot interrupt their daily routine, demand Mubarak’s resignation, and continue calls for a new, democtratic Egypt.

While imprisoned inside the Khiam, Bechara’s captors subjected her to various forms of sexualized violence, including harsh “interrogation” sessions laden with oppressive sexual innuendo and rape threats. Although Bechara never discloses whether or not she was actually sexually assaulted, she makes it perfectly clear that the Khiam’s SLA forces used sex as a means of intimidating her, framing her routine physical beatings within a genderized context.

Given that patriarchy and misogyny are tools that Arab despots – like Ali Abdallah Saleh and Hosni Mubarak – use and have used to manipulate and oppress Arab countries, gender liberation is not simply a part of national liberation; it is essential to realizing freedom, justice, and equality throughout the Arab world. The consequences of war, political strife, and economic instability in Arab countriesdisproportionately impact women, thus highlighting the need for Arab women to take a more prominent role in decision-making processes. Although women have been at the forefront of the “Arab Spring” – in Bahrain, women are taking the lead on promoting national unity in order to avoid the same divisive sectarian tensions that plague countries like Iraq and Lebanon – it is unclear as to whether or not their prominent role in popular protests will translate to radical structural change that will facilitate gender equity, economic justice, and political power.

Although My Life for Lebanon wasn’t an explicitly feminist narrative, Bechara’s memoirs represent one woman’s struggle to overcome patriarchy and sexual violence in the course of achieving national liberation. Bechara’s experiences further undermine the preposterous idea that gender liberation is subordinate to national liberation. The same way in which Soha’s personal revolution impacted all facets of her life, our people’s liberation struggle is incomplete unless it demands freedom, equality, and liberation for all regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, and other social identities.