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Saturday, January 29, 2011


Israelis are used to look at things through the prism of "is it good for the Jews or is it bad?" and then decide what they think about it. Since I am also an Israeli my knee-jerk reaction to the latest upheaval in Egypt was thinking how it would affect Israel, was it good or bad for Israel? And since I can be very susceptible to the long-held belief that Israel's peace with her Arab neighbors is very fragile and unrest can quickly dissolve into another bloody war, I was leaning toward the thought that maybe this wave of discontent is not the best thing in the world. But then I thought, screw it, that's totally the wrong way to look at it. So I started looking at the pictures coming from the streets of Egypt and realized that what caught my eyes were not the pictures of riot police blocking protesters or the fires burning in Cairo or people carrying the wounded with terrified expressions on their faces, but the women. I was looking for the women. And I saw one picture of a young woman in jeans and a long sleeve sweater waving her arm in the air and shouting in anger; then I saw a picture of an older woman in a head scarf kissing a young bewildered green eyed policeman, and I was sold on the Egyptian revolution.

Egypt gave us one of the most amazing feminists in the world. Huda Shaarawi who came out of the harem and fought for women rights in 1920s Egypt, no less. She was the first to take off the veil and fight against the seclusion of women. Today, when I see the women of Egypt go to the streets along their male counterparts and demand their rights to free elections and free speech, all I can think of is Huda Shaarawi. I only hope that the women of Egypt will not fall into the trap women in Algeria fell during their fight for independence when they donned the veil as their symbol of freedom. I hope Egyptian women are smarter than that.

In Hebrew we call Egypt Mitzrayim. I come in contact with Mitzrayim once a year on the first night of passover when I pretend to read the Hagadda with my friends before we give up and go for the food. In Hebrew Mitzrayim means "straits" מצר or "narrow" צר or "trouble" צרה. In the context of Passover it can mean the literal story in which the children of Israel walked through the narrow straits of whatever hurdle they had to cross in their flight from their enslavers. For those of us who don't take the bible literally but as a literary text, it means a spiritual or emotional rebirth. After all, even an abstract birth canal can feel like a narrow strait.

The latest struggle of the Egyptian protesters is no different from the struggle of the children of Israel which we find in the Jewish Bible. Egypt has finally arrived at its breaking point, facing its own bottle neck, its own birth canal. The army and the police can suppress the movement with brute force, but not for long. Once the gini is out of the bottle it is very hard to shove it back in. The amazing discontent that has been unleashed on the streets of Egypt will be very hard to squash and silence, not in this evolving world of social media and constant agitation by AlJazeera. And bear in mind, Egypt lies right across from Europe, not buried deep in the Middle East like Iran or Yemen.

I think it's about time for the Egyptians to cross their narrow straits and come out free on the other side. I only hope they don't forget Huda Shaarawi when they claim their victory.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not by far as optimistic as you are, Galia. I also watched the news but what stricked me in the demonstrations was the number of women wearing veils and niqabs. And what I have printed in my retina right now is what this veiled (and young) woman was screaming: she was complaining not about corrurption, lack of opportunities for young people or lack of affordable staple products, no, she was mad at Moubarak because he forbid women from wearing the niqab at the university!!!
    And, if the Muslims brothers end up in power in Egypt (and it is very plausible since they are the most organized force within the opposition), do you think they are likely to enforce the Camp DAvid agreement and recognize the existence of Israel? I'm not so sure about that. I was happy for the Tunisians and I'm quite hopeful that they will be able to install some kind of more democratic regime but I think that for the Egyptians, that's a completely different story.