Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Egypt's slow descent into madness

This is not encouraging:
A protest by hundreds of Egyptian women demanding equal rights and an end to sexual harassment turned violent Tuesday when crowds of men heckled and shoved the demonstrators, telling them to go home where they belong.
The women — some in headscarves and flowing robes, others in jeans — had marched to Cairo's central Tahrir Square to celebrate International Women's Day. But crowds of men soon outnumbered them and chased them out.
"They said that our role was to stay home and raise presidents, not to run for president," said Farida Helmy, a 24-year old journalist.
Sexual harassment remains widespread in Egypt, where women often are afraid to report sexual assault or harassment for fear they and their families will be stigmatized. A 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights found that 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women in Cairo said they had been harassed — while 62 percent of men admitted to harassing.
Tahrir Square was the epicenter of the protests that toppled President Hosni Mubarak last month after nearly 30 years in power. Women in Egypt had reported that Tahrir had been free of the groping and leering endemic in the country, but on Feb. 11, CBS correspondent Lara Logan was sexually assaulted and beaten on the final night of the 18-day revolt. The Associated Press does not name victims of sexual assault unless they agree to be identified.
At Tuesday's march, men scolded protesters and said their concerns were not urgent in the aftermath of the uprising. When the women argued back, some were verbally abused or groped. Others were beaten and had to be ripped away from the groups of men.
Mostafa Hussein, 30, said many protesters had to flee the area and hide in a park nearby.
"They were running for their lives and the army had to fire a shot in the air to break up the mob chasing them," Hussein said.
Allahpundit has more, including tweets from a first-hand observer to the violence: Foreign Policy Editor Blake Hounshell.  Hounshell sums up his take: “What’s going on in Tahrir Square right now is a national tragedy for Egypt.”
From AP himself:
The turnout against Mubarak in Tahrir Square was on the order of hundreds of thousands; the turnout today for women’s rights, less than a month after revolutionary brotherhood swept the old bastard from power, was by some estimates less than 100. Quote: “‘I’ve never been as afraid as I am now in all my years in Egypt,’ she said, watching men deride women standing nearby and yell: ‘The people want to bring women down!’”
Patterico's Aaron Worthing appears to take the position that the glass is half-full, even if it is a specimen cup:
It is heartening to read that for the most part the protesters were apparently less likely to grope and leer, compared to the general population, but it is also distressing to see this mob use sexualized violence in part of a campaign to terrorize women away from their rightful place as equal citizens.
Christopher Hitchens compares the Egyptian revolution to the revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989, and finds the comparison unfavorable to Egypt.  Hitchens' analysis is pessimistic, to say the least, but the following excerpt makes me wonder if Hitchens is not nearly pessimistic enough:
Still, and for many of the same reasons, it is unlikely in the highest degree that the tremors will produce a ghastly negation: a Khomeini or a Mugabe who turns the initial revolution into a vicious counterrevolution. Egypt’s tenuous economy is hugely dependent on hospitality to Western tourists. Perhaps one in 10 Egyptians is a Christian. To the nation’s immediate south, in Sudan, millions of Africans have just voted to secede from a state that imposes Shari’a, and have taken most of the country’s oil fields along with them.

Even if the peace agreement with Israel is abrogated, Egypt will never be able to fight another war with the Jewish state, or not without guaranteeing catastrophe. No wonder the voice of the Muslim Brotherhood turned out to sound so tinny. Does it seriously expect to take on any of the problems I have just mentioned, with its feeble, simplistic slogan, “Islam Is the Solution”? The mullahs in Iran were able to hijack the 1979 revolution because in the Ayatollah Khomeini they had a figure of almost Lenin-like authority, and because (with the covert consent of the smirking Baptist Jimmy Carter) Saddam Hussein did them the immense favor of invading one of their western provinces and cementing a hysterical national unity. The mullahs also were, and remain, partly insulated from the consequences of their economic folly by the possession of huge reserves of oil, barely a drop of which is to be found in the vicinity of the Nile Delta.
Hitchens seems to write off the Muslim Brotherhood way too easily.  The second-class status of women in Egypt is a product of Islam, specifically an interpretation of shar'ia law.  The Muslim Brotherhood (the masculine terminology is no accident) espouses a strict interpretation of shar'ia law, in which women are little more than slaves.  The Muslim Brotherhood is far, far better organized than any of the other players for power in Egypt, except for the military, which is itself riddled with members of the Muslim Brotherhood.  And as the counterprotests against women demonstrate, they have a ready market for their earthly version of Hell.

I suppose now is not the time to ask where the West has been all these years in fighting for the rights of women in the Middle East in particular and in the Muslim world in general?  Understand that the National Organization for Women doesn't care about women living under shar'ia law -- forced to wear tents, physically abused, unable to work, prevented from getting an education, stripped of legal rights.  But shouldn't the US government (both Republicans and Democrats) have been pushing the issue?

If we had, we might have a significant segment of good will in the Middle East right now, but, clearly, we do not.

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