The It is as true for Egypt

  The home on the other hand remains the pure and goodly antithesis of the external- it is female. Chatterjee asserts that by matching gender roles to the home/world dichotomy one can see gender roles as answered by nationalism which answer the women’s question (Yegenoglu: 1998: 124-125). The spiritual sphere so essential for differenitating between East and West and the home, where one seeks respite from the endless drudgery of the material sphere, where the true essence of the eastern culture is present, it is the world of women.The material sphere which is rationalised to allow some essential elements of Western (in order to defeat colonialists) is fraught with material interests and practical considerations and which has previously been dominated by westerners, is male.

Women are made passive cultural guardians, they must remain unchanged and uncontaminated by western values. Chatterjee cites the example of his native India where the home (and therefore woman) discussed within the nationalist discourse became “the principle site for expressing the nation’s culture” (Yegenoglu: 1998: 125).When the home/ woman becomes the site for the advancement of a nation’s culture then “controversies about women’s dress, manners, food, education, her role outside the home become intensified” (Yegenoglu: 1998: 125). While he speaks in relation to India it is applicable to many Muslim countries and to countries trying to break-free of colonial domination. It is as true for Egypt as it is for Ireland. The Wafd Party while adopting a constitutional monarchy system (a replica of the coloniser) and embracing education including that of women.The Wafd Party did not extend the right to vote to women and left almost all of the demands of the Egyptian feminists unresolved.

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Polygamy and divorce reforms were left unchanged, the spiritual, cultural, domestic sphere (or woman) must be retained in cultural nationalism so that a national identity may be forged. The 1956 Constitution of Egypt gave women the right to vote if they sought it following a hunger strike by leading feminist Shafik under the leadership of Nasser who had taken power via a coup in 1952.Nasser became a very popular leader because of his opposition to the British, finally removing their presence in 1954. While the Wafd Party had become corrupt, Nasser was to turn Egypt into a secular socialist state which became at the latter stages more or less a police state (Hopwood: 1993). The socialist policies and the international triumph following the Tripartite Aggression made Nasser initially popular with the populous. Islamism Islamism is the term generally used to refer to conservative efforts to return fully to Shari’a law as the only means of governing, rejecting fiercely any western ideals.Shari’a law has very strict ruling regarding the status of women which can be seen in countries such as “the laws and decrees of both Pakistan and Iran directly reflect[ing] or entirely compatible with Shari’a views as interpreted by establishment Islam” (Ahmed: 1992: 234). Many reasons have been given for the rise of Islamism within Egyptian society that is commonly thought to have emerged following the 1967 defeat at the hands of Israel.

Ahmed cites other reasons for the new-found popularity of an old tradition.Chiefly a lot of the reasons stem from the Infitah, which opened up the Egyptian market for foreign investment. This lead to an explosion of American fast-food chains, luxury goods and satellite television, bringing with them neo-imperialist cultural domination. These new goods and services displaced indigenous business and created hardship and unemployment within Egypt.

The economic downturn was not solely caused by foreign MNC entering the state but by other factors such as a costly war with Yemen.Sadat was forced to back down from socialist policies in the face of tightened public coffers, which drew political criticism from both leftist parties and Nasserities also. In order to ease pressure on himself Sadat allowed the Muslim Brethren to resume their activities that had been banned under Nasser. Unfortunately for Sadat, the Muslim Brethren were also unhappy about Sadat’s apparent willingness to co-operate with the west economically and with the treaty signed with Israel: they began to criticise him too.While leftist newspapers had been banned, the Muslim Brethren were free to write and distribute their publication without competition from others, espousing their own particular Islamic idiom. With no other papers in competition, the Muslim Brethren became the only alternative political voice within Egyptian society. Islamism demands a return to Shari’a law believing that the separation of Church and State to be fundamentally wrong, and that Islamic misfortune in recent decades is a sign that they have strayed from God. The move towards democracy within Egypt has also not pleased Islamic group greatly.

As Fatima Mernissi explains “women’s claim to change, the disintegration of traditional society and the invasion of western, capitalist, consumerist individualism” (Mernissi: 1996:110) have greatly upset the Islamic groups in recent years. This current discourse in placed in perspective by Mernissi by a ‘double slave’ paradigm and via the concept of Nushuz. Mernissi explains in Women’s Rebellion and Islamic Memory that what Islamic groups fear is individualism, which comes hand in hand along with consumerism, secularisation and other western concepts.Mernissi explains that this individualism threatens the core of Muslim beliefs, that of the group or umma that is the sole source of authority within the group. Women symbolically function within Islamic society as the embodiment of dangerous individualism. The whole order of the umma is based on a slave/master dynamic. One sex is the slave of both God and master of the other sex, those are males, women on the other hand are slaves to God and slaves to men.If women were to begin to take control or to rebel the whole order that Islamic society is based on unravels.

A fear of dissent has been feared in Islam for many years, and not just from women. Anyone who were to challenge the umma could place the entire hierarchy in jeopardy (Mernissi: 1996: 109-112). “In the 1990s the fear within the umma is stronger than ever before, because there are threats to consensus not only from without (the West as a deadly enemy with an invading culture), but from within as well.

The increasing access of the poor to education, the incredibly high social mobility, the polarization of classes around economic issues, the emergence of women as salaried workers- all these pose a threat to the Muslim community as it traditionally viewed itself; a homogenous group” (Mernissi: 1996: 112) Islam then sees itself as under threat. Ibrahim conducted research into members of Islamic movements in Egypt and concluded the following “They have a deep-seated hostility towards the West, Communism and Israel.Any ruler who deals with or befriends any of them would be betraying Islam. Excessive wealth, extravagance, sever poverty, exploitation and usury have no place in a truly Muslim society. They disapprove of nearly all the regimes in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

They attribute many of the decadent aspects of behaviour in Egypt wither to Western influence or to the squandering of oil money, and they firmly believe that should ‘true Islam’ be implemented Egypt and the Muslim world would be independent, free, prosperous, just and righteous societies” (Ahmed: 1992: 229).Ahmed expresses her own personal doubts about the means by which women in these groups hope to attain their goals. Ahmed believes that first a “”period in which dictates and assumptions of established Islam are fundamentally questioned” (Ahmed: 1992: 230), otherwise these Islamic groups are open to the enforcement of established of Shari’a law with its unmitigated androcentric doctrines.In a survey of university students within Egypt conducted by Radwan, 67% of veiled students and 53% of unveiled students said they wished for Shari’a law to be introduced in Egypt (Ahmed: 1992: 233). Ahmed questions whether women who support these groups fully realise the implications of living under Shari’a law. Citing the modern Shari’a law regimes in Iran (where women’s testimony counts only if corroborated by men and discourages women from educating themselves outside the realms of nursing and teaching, tries removing them from office jobs etc.)Ahmed doubts that the 67% of veiled university students and 53% of unveiled university students who want Egypt to adopt shari’a law “has any idea of the extremes of control, exclusion, injustice and indeed brutality that can be, in the present order of things, legitimately meted out to women in the name of Islam” (Ahmed: 1992: 234). In response to the growing demand for conservative Islamic law a new type of Muslim feminism has emerged, with Ahmed and Mernissi at its helm.

Neither westernised and secular, nor Islamist and ultra-traditional it is instead focusing on trying to dismantle the things which enforce women’s subjugation within the Islamic framework. It aspires to find within the new drive to ‘purer Islam’, the founding principles of Islam which Islamic feminists believe was “long ago corrupted by pre-Islamic Arab, Persian, and North African customs [and] are if anything more egalitarian than those of western religions” (Hymowitz: 2003). This Islamic feminism has emerged because previous attempts at Western feminism proved unpopular and remain associated for the most part with colonialism.Conclusion Colonialism projected both the fears of the colonisers and the fears of the colonised onto women. Issues of cultural domination and resistance became attached permanently to the place of women within a culture. While trying to ‘civilise’ or dominate using the language of feminism irreparably tarnished western/ secular feminism within Egypt. With the expulsion of the British, nationalism centred (as it has in so many other countries, including Ireland) its cultural battleground and construction of separate national identity on women, by making women the guardians of native cultural practices and the ‘spirit’ of Egyptian essence.

With current western leaders currently engaged in foreign security and economic security incursions into Muslim countries, Muslim resistance to neo-imperialism has centred on a return to conservative Islamic law. This Islamism is a means of maintaining a separate cultural identity, one that does not support rampant consumerism, secularism and individualism. Geo-politics has always demanded a reaction from Muslims, be it colonialism, Orientalism, war, the Palestine/Israel conflict or the current ‘war on terrorism’.The nationalist projects within Egypt borrowed certain ideas from the west (separation of church and state, constitutional democracy) but ideas imported wholesale from an enemy can never be supported by indigenous peoples because they essentially foreign and are forever associated with the colonisers. In response to this, feminists within Islam are trying to carve out an identity for themselves within Islam. It is not merely an attempt to ‘rationalise on their feet’ in response to western resistance within their societies, rather it is because they do not necessarily agree with western values either and they search for a way of equalling ge.


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