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Mogahed Addresses Women’s Rights After Arab Spring

Staff Writer

Published: Friday, March 1, 2013

Updated: Friday, March 1, 2013 14:03

“We’re at a crossroads in the history of the Middle East.  So much is transpiring and so much is still misunderstood,” stated Dalia Mogahed at the start of her lecture in Rehm Library on February 21.  Mogahed’s lecture “Women after the Arab Spring: Revolution, Rights, and Religion” addressed the current state of women’s rights after the Arab Spring and the various misconceptions about gender justice in the Middle East.

    Mogahed is the executive director and senior analyst for the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and was appointed to President Obama’s White House Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Advisory Council in 2009.  Arabian Business Magazine named her as one of the world’s most powerful Arab women in 2012 as she was “the first Muslim veiled woman to be appointed to a position in the White House.” 
   Her lecture was sponsored by the McFarland Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture as part of a series that addresses women’s issues across the globe.  Professor Thomas Landy, Director of the McFarland Center, said Mogahed’s lecture was an important talk to bring to the Holy Cross community. 
   “I do not think that we as a community, like most Americans, have a very deep understanding of Muslims’ lives,” said Landy. Mogahed “should help us to better understand the perspectives of women from the world’s second largest religious group.”

   Mogahed is an American citizen, who was born in Egypt, and much of her lecture focused on the developments in her country of origin.  She began her talk by analyzing the factors that led to the Egyptian revolution two years ago, saying it was sparked by economic and political dissatisfaction. Gallup surveys showed that a “longing for freedom” was prevalent in Egypt and other Muslim countries.  “This idea that people hated us for our freedom is just simply completely wrong,” said Mogahed.  “They did not hate our freedom, they wanted more freedom themselves.”

   Since the revolution, analysts have speculated that Egypt’s future is bleak due to violence and apparent divisions within the country.  However, Mogahed said that according to Gallup surveys, Egyptians are more optimistic about their futures, they have an increased faith in their political system, and they support the notion that change through peaceful means is possible.

   Mogahed said that a “tectonic shift” occurred in Egypt after the revoluion with regard to Egyptians’ sense of empowerment.  According to Gallup, 90% of Egyptians now say it is their responsibility to solve a problem in their community.  This sense of empowerment also applies to Egyptian women, who constituted one-third of the protesters during the revolution. 
   Mogahed addressed Egyptian women’s views of government, particularly the role of religion in government, after the Egyptian Revolution.

   Surveys found that both men and women in Egypt tended to be in favor of Sharia, also known as Islamic religious principles, in legislation.  While there is not a gender divide over Sharia in the political sphere, there is a gender divide across the Middle East with regard to women’s rights.  In general, women are in favor of women’s increased political and economic rights, such as working outside of the home, while men are less supportive. 
   In Egypt particularly, there is a sense of outrage, not in the rise of religious political parties, but in the dramatic rise of sexual violence in Egypt against women.  Mogahed said that there does not seem to be a rise in overall violence, so there is speculation that some of the violence against women is “political in nature.”  She stated that this violence is “an organized effort to scare women from protests and to discredit the movement in general” by portraying the revolution as a movement that incites chaos.

   Mogahed concluded her talk with recommendations to help “bring about gender justice in a post-Arab Spring world.”  She said that efforts should focus on women’s own priorities, which involve security and economic concerns.  “I think this [lack of security] is one of the greatest threats to women’s civic and political engagement,” said Mogahed.  Women have “actually become afraid to engage in the public space and that is exactly the intent of this organized effort.”

   Mogahed also recommended that women “play a role in the interpretation of religious principles.”  Egyptian women are in favor of Sharia as a source for policy and also support women’s rights means that they “are interpreting their religious principles in a way that is compatible with gender justice.”  If these women were to play a role in the interpretation of Sharia, women’s rights could expand as rights that are in accordance with religion.

   Students and faculty filled Rehm Library for Mogahed’s lecture and reacted positively to her talk.  Mary Bassaly, ‘16, a Holy Cross student of Egyptian descent, said Mogahed’s lecture was “very relatable and educational” and “shed light on politics in Egypt.”  Her classmate Amber Alley, ‘16 said, “She was really good about breaking conceptions about the role of religion in politics of the Middle East and what women think about religion in the Middle East.”

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