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The Color of Arab Spring is Pink

Sunday November 27, 2011 11:32:47 PM, Dr Kausar Fatima,

For almost half a century, the Arab pride was in deep slumber. It was awakened by a woman’s slap in a small Tunisian town of Sidi Buziz. A woman’s slap in fact ignited a revolution which we call today the Arab spring. No wonder then, if a woman from Yemen, Tawwakul Kirman was honored with a noble prize; for the Arab spring is essentially a woman movement in which the Arab women have played a leading role.


Woman has always been good for revolution. In the Arab world they have a history of fighting along with their male counterparts against colonial rulers. That is why when Benghazi fell to the revolutionaries people discovered that an underground women organization Mukhtar’s nieces sprang to give logistic and organizational support to the revolution. The more deeply we dig and try to understand the phenomenon we find that those who led and commanded the movement in Tunissia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain were women activists who had a natural talent and skill to social media tools.


For example, take the case of Tunis. Buazizi’s death might have gone unnoticed had there been no Lina Mhenni, the blogger whose efforts brought some five thousand men and women to the funeral procession of Buazizi. Soon the unrest spread to other cities and Bin Ali had to leave.


The same happened in Egypt when a young woman Asma Mahfooz uploaded a short video on YouTube and face book invoking the Arab man’s sleeping pride. She announced, “Whoever says women shouldn’t go to protests because they will get beaten, let him have some honor and manhood and come with me on January 25th.” Mahfooz appealed the Egyptians to honor four young men who, following the example of Mohammad Buazizi, had set themselves afire. The video proved to be a wakeup call bringing tens of thousands of people to Tahrir Square on January 25th, thus causing a popular revolution.


In Libya, things went out of hand and the unrest turned into a revolution only when a woman protestor Iman al-Ubaidi broke into a government press conference in Tripoli to charge that Ghddafi’s troops had detained her at the check point and then raped her. The incident provoked popular anger causing an unending protest till the regime fell. In Yemen, we all know well that the first protest against the regime in which some 2,500 people participated was led by Tawwakul Kirman, a woman journalist and now also a recipient of the Noble for peace. It was she who invented the popular chant “Ali! Ali! Join your friend Bin Ali”.


In Bahrain, women were literally on the forefront receiving bullets in Pearl Square. In the early days of revolution when men were afraid of the regime it were women in black chador and abaya who thronged to the Pearl Square with make-shift tents. In the process Zainab al Khawaja became an icon of resistance. Imagine, in the early two months of revolution over 100 women were arrested and some of them even disappeared. This is a huge number in the tiny kingdom of Bahrain.


Dear friends! Now let me tell you a secret. If the Arab spring is a success and is still a phenomenon to reckon with, it is because of women. How? Let me explain. The woman brought with her some space for revolution and revolutionaries. The presence of women demanded that some space be created for them to lie down, take rest, and more so, to have a functional command centre. This space was instrumental in bringing the regime to fall. It was symbolic, as well as, crucial for the revolution to survive. Later, when the Arab spring inspired victims of capitalism in America and a movement called ‘Occupy the Wall Street’ started in New York, it realized the symbolic and pragmatic significance of the tent. The system too, realized how dangerous it was to have women and the tents in any demonstration. Eventually, the park was vacated by force.


In the Arab world, as elsewhere, the enemies of revolution are trying hard to get the women and tent out. Because woman is perceived as the agent of change and tent as the natural command centre, and to some extent, also the space for survival and comfort for the revolutionaries. The rulers in the Arab-world know it well that once women are off to kitchen, the revolution will lose its vigor. Ali Abdullah Saleh, never known for his Islamic credentials, asked the Yemeni people that they should not let their women intermingle with men in public demonstrations. This is against our values, he retorted.


In Egypt, to weaken the revolution the military regime brought a bunch of salafis who, turned the main revolutionary slogan into an anti-woman campaign. Instead of keeping the pitch high of الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام they started chanting: الشعب يريد اسقاط النساء. This is a dangerous move. When oppressive rulers had their day, they gave us the impression that they were working for women libration.


Now, this time, it is the same issue of woman-honor and its protection that are being raised by the regime. As long as men and women work together, as enshrined in the Quran

أَوْلِيَاءُ بَعْضٍ وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتُ بَعْضُهُمْ , the Arab spring will thrive, but, if women are forced to go back to kitchen, God forbidding, I’m afraid, it would turn into an Arab-winter.




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