Women’s movements

Since we started studying the many examples of social movements started on social media in the middle east/north Africa, I was disappointed again and again at how the movements turned out. Maybe I expected too much from these campaigns, but because even though they all achieved success at the time, they did not make lasting impacts on the society. However, the women’s rights movement, especially with Harassmap (Egypt) and HarassTracker (Lebanon), seems to have made a big difference for women in MENA. From the video with Abir Ghatta and the readings, it is clear that they are working. She said that these movements are really bringing harassment out of the private sector and turning it into a public discussion. This is extremely important because the goal of any movement is to raise awareness so people would face the problem and address it.

Across the readings, the two research papers described online movements in the Arab world really well by pointing out how they worked and did not work. Most of them started out on Facebook, and a common success is gaining popular and even global attention about the issue at hand, then using this awareness to turn online voices into physical protests. Facebook/online movements also worked horizontally, which made them more accessible thus creating a sense of community. Some limitations, as previously discussed, is lack of stamina and leadership – a lot of these movements do not last very long, making its success hard to preserve.

What HarassMap has achieved here is impressive, because it is definitely a very important issue, since women have been marginalised for way too long. We still have a long way to go with the women’s rights movement, everywhere, but their success is imperative. From the research on women’s movements in Arab world, it seems that people want to help with the cause but everyone needs to understand that: religion (Islam) is not responsible for women’s condition, it is to blame on old cultural practices and beliefs.

happy international women’s day

Why is there a debate?

Coming from a country with universal healthcare, these past few years in America has completely changed the way I view this country, especially because of the healthcare system. It is bizarre to me that people have to spend a ridiculous amount of money on insurance but still get charged co-pay for a simple cold, and an emergency contraceptive pill is triple the price than where I come from. Planned Parenthood has been providing service way broader than abortion for everyone – especially people who cannot afford it otherwise.

I tried to understand the debate by looking at the other side, these are some of the arguments I found:

  1. Planned Parenthood is America’s largest abortion provider / their business model is centred on abortion.
  2. Planned Parenthood is an independently wealthy entity.
  3. There are plenty of other options that provide the same services.

Planned Parenthood does look like this “abortion factory” when people emphasise on how many abortions they provide per year – but that is still not the most popular service they provide. The majority of its patients are also from low income families and since this is the most affordable option and the most established one, it would waste a lot more money and create more people without vital health care services. On top of that, as the articles showed, raising a child is becoming increasingly expensive and not everyone is financially or emotionally stable enough to be a parent yet.

This debate can go on forever, but no one can win because there will always be people against the other side. So I guess my biggest question is why are we arguing about this if a woman’s decision about her own body does not affect anyone else? Planned Parenthood is simply there to show people all of their options, and it is their own freedom to choose. It seems that the biggest underlying reason the government is against it is the funding that goes into it, they need to open their eyes and see how more money (and beyond that) they would actually cost the people by defunding it.

Locked Up for Wanting Freedom

Not everyone has the privilege of browsing and posting anything on the internet, or in real life, like we do in the United States. Freedom is a right here, but it is something people are still fighting for in the middle east, and it is why Bassel Khartabil got arrested and went missing. From the articles, his work for Creative Commons and Wikipedia is truly amazing; his effort in educating people and forming a collaborative force working towards freedom is the most impressive, even though it also got him into a lot of trouble.

6 weeks into this course and I’m still constantly shocked by how much I take the freedom I enjoy for granted – seeing Khartabil’s case after all the others had reminded me that there are people risking their lives for this. Dheere’s article on Arab bloggers was also very interesting, because they refuse to be called journalists, and it might be true, because Arab bloggers are more than journalists. They are essentially activists, activists who are risking their lives to get information to the people for a better society, because activism can begin as small as a blog post. It is disheartening how someone as brilliant as Khartabil could just get wiped out like that, which has probably happened to way more people. This effectively makes an example and silences other people who might want the same thing – freedom.

Another article on the movement’s website that caught my attention was about President Trump’s executive order that suspended the refugee program. This means that even though its unlikely, if Khartabil was found, he cannot go to the US for refuge even though he has a standing invitation and would be doing important work. It is already hard enough for people like Khartabil to work towards helping his people, how can they keep fighting without the support of large nations like the US?

Trash Government

Originally aiming for peaceful demonstrations, the #YouStink protests turned into violent ones, resulting in riot police responding with water cannons and tear gas. The photos from the protest are hard to look at, making it hard to believe this issue would start riots – unless it is from years of anger built up against the government. Which is what happened in Lebanon: the people were not happy about the corruption in their government and how little they care about public accountability. This is reflected by them not collecting trash for  a month because they never came up with a long-term plan for after the temporary landfill has filled up.

The Lebanese government needed the pressure from its people to start making change. At the time of the movement, Lebanon had been without a president for a year. Like what Paul Amar discussed about uprisings in the Arab world, its a battle between different kinds of sovereignty, and the people usually want democracy – we saw this in the movements in Egypt, even though they did not succeed. Lebanon on the other hand, has a parliamentary government system that is divided amongst religious groups and they have an electoral system. However, in the comments of Alan Taylor’s article, the common question is “wow, Lebanon has a government?” Some people are just ignorant when they ask that, but seeing #YouStink does make you question what can the people do for the government to reform and turn into a better one.

Black Lives Matter, too

Tomi Lahren on Black Lives Matter

After reading the articles, I went online to search more about the movement and the “all lives matter” response. The video above, in my opinion, represents a lot of people who would say all lives matter and their argument against the movement. Watching her talk made me angry, even though before this video I also felt like the movement is not that much my concern, because how can someone contradict herself so much but still defends herself so confidently?

The entire premise of All Lives Matter is to distract and erase the whole idea behind BLM. Black Lives Matter started because evidence has shown that even though many choose to ignore it, racism is still very much alive in this country and black people are still discriminated against – they understand that all lives matter, but the people who are starting the All lives matter slogan do not see that they meant “black lives matter TOO”.

Ransby’s article on the movement points out a few problems with the movement – it is too often dismissed as a leaderless movement that will not succeed, even though it does. The history of BLM is all on the internet for anyone to learn, its strong ties to feminism and the LGBTQ community, has all been discussed by leaders of the movement publicly. But people want things handed to them. Which is why there are so many people doing things under the BLM name wrongly. Which is also why people like Tomi Lahren would criticise the movement – they were already against it, after seeing so much bad press, they felt justified to call activists “cry babies still protesting for a failed movement.”

#BlackLivesMatter is still alive and I think its more important than ever right now; more structure, more education, more change.

Understanding Egypt’s Current State

From someone who had just started learning about activism in Egypt, it is a little bit hard to believe that the 2011 revolution’s success only lasted that long. Herrera’s article helped me understand this a little bit. It went into depth about how the ‘wired generation’, or simply the youth, was able to mobilise the revolution through the internet. The article also pointed out the limitations of the wired generation – in relation to going backwards after the revolution – short attention span and lack of long term planning skills.

Herrera raised an important question: “Does our generation possess the skill sets, vision, resources and organisational know-how necessary to build and sustain the type of democratic and just society it values?”

From Egypt’s current state, its clear that the youth is able to voice their ideologies alright, but they were unable to take the leadership role themselves, and now they are unable to overthrow the regime because it has become more repressive than ever. Its government had issued highly restrictive assembly laws that banned public protests back in 2013. In the following year, Egypt’s current president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi gave the military even more power than they already had by placing all ‘public and vital facilities’ under military jurisdiction – this means that since protesting is illegal, civilians will be trialled in military court for doing so, which is what has been happening in Egypt for the past few years.

Before the 2011 revolution, it was police brutality, but now its the military. As shown in so many cases, they can arrest and hold people up to years without ever giving them a trail, they can torture people into confessing or they can trial them without following due process. Military court also does not have a different set of rules for juveniles, making it dangerous for anyone and everyone.

Going back to Herrera’s question about the new generation’s ability: I think it has been repressed before it could mature, and is being led into wrong directions.

Are We All Khaled Said?

Yes and No. (Of course this is just based on the readings)

Yes, because the message behind the WAAKS page and movement is very important – it played a huge role in the 2011 revolution – it not only exposed the social injustice and especially police brutality that had been swept under the rug for so long, but it also succeeded in obtaining local and international support, assembled people virtually and made real life protests possible. Khaled Said was not the first nor the last person to die because of the abuse of power and emergency law, but through digital activism he was made a martyr for their cause.

  • Emergency Law – before 2011, the emergency law gave authority the power to “impose restrictions on the freedoms of assembly, move or residence; the power to arrest and detain suspects or those deemed dangerous, and the power to search individuals and places without the need to follow the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code”

This law was extended many times and gave the Egyptian police too much power. WAAKS was mainly a movement against this law. Even though this movement was successful by reaching out to the middle class and youth through the internet by making Said a relatable, everyday Egyptian, it still had its shortcomings.

When the title suggests it, you try to relate to the cause, but maybe the movement was not all that relatable, as it does not cover all aspects of the problems existing in Egypt, especially problems experienced by the youth. Drug abuse, sexism, depression… these are all common problems that were not discussed because it did not serve the agenda – and if they made it apparent that Said had these problems, it would bring down his martyr image. So no, maybe we are not all Khaled Said, because the movement only reached out to some of the people.

WAAKS was and is still a very important movement, though. It mobilised the country, especially connecting the youth demographic through digital activism, which had not been done in Egypt before that. Reading the Facebook page and its back story made me realise how all of these successful campaigns are small and easy to start, but if the right tools are utilised (in this case, the internet), it could start a revolution.