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Doha Debates on Women’s Rights After Arab Revolutions

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TIM SEBASTIAN

Ladies and gentlemen, a very good evening to you, and welcome to the latest in our series of Doha Debates, coming to you from the Gulf State of Qatar and sponsored by the Qatar Foundation. The euphoria of the Arab Spring has been overshadowed by violent struggles in several countries, by economic hardship, sectarian strife and political battles – countries that have deposed their old dictators or promised freedom and respect for human rights as part of a bright new future. But will they live up to it? One of the tests is how the rights of individuals will be protected and, more especially, the rights of women, many of whom fear their lives will be more restricted under the rise of political Islam. Others point to comforting declarations by Muslim parties in Egypt and the Ennahda party in Tunisia, which won the bulk of the seats in the new Constituent Assembly. But doubts remain, hence our motion tonight: ‘This House believes that women will be worse off after the Arab revolutions’. Well, our panellists, of course, come at the issue from very different standpoints. Speaking for the motion: Iman Bibars: she’s a vice-president and regional director of Ashoka, a group that promotes social change. She also helped set up the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women in Egypt. And with her: Khadija Arfaoui is a feminist researcher, long active in civil society in Tunisia. A former academic, she’s also worked for the human rights group Amnesty International and the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. Against the motion: Amel Jerary, a lecturer at Tripoli University, she’s acted as media coordinator for the National Transitional Council in Libya and is interim prime minister. And with her: Rabab el-Mahdi, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the American University in Cairo. She’s also co-founder of a number of Egyptian opposition groups, including Kifaya. Ladies and gentlemen, our panel. [Applause] So now let me first ask Iman Bibars to speak for the motion, please.

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Iman Bibars

Speaking for the motion

Iman Bibars

IMAN BIBARS

Well, I’ll just go directly: I believe that in the aftermath of the revolutions women have been harmed regardless of their class, education or background, from the urban elite to the petty street vendor, female vendor, they’ve all been harmed. Then I speak about Egypt and say why am I saying this? Well, in control now we have two main engendered institutions, whether it’s the army or the Muslim Brothers. From the beginning what did we have? We had a committee that was supposed to look at the constitution and create amendments. They do not have women, do not have young people or Christians. The second thing we had: the quota for women was cancelled, although there is another quota in Egypt for the workers and the peasants which was not cancelled. And the claim was because it was abused by the previous regime when the quota for all the workers and for the peasants had been abused for fifty years and is not really calling for justice. For a revolution that was calling for justice and access to equality and equal opportunities, that’s not what we expect. The parliament that we have, in the parliament in Egypt, we have eight women, four of them from the Muslim Brotherhood who are against women’s issues. And it’s not because this is a reflection of society; the constituencies – and I’ll talk about it later – electoral constituencies were very large. Nobody could have won but the Muslim Brothers. The lists did not include women – they included women, but not in the first or second in the head of the list but it included labourers and workers, which are part of the quota but did not include women. There is a very hostile campaign against women personal status law, because they’re claiming it belongs to the old regime, although we have an investment law and a labour law which are against people and the workers, and yet nobody is claiming it’s bad. We have 40 percent of women living in urban areas and squatter areas who are very poor, who are now being harassed, asked to go home, and they’re the poorest of the poor. There’ve been millions of households in low-income urban areas in the millions. They’re being harassed, this is where I work. I work with 100,000 of these women, and they’re being harassed, they’re being asked to go home, they’re being asked to stay at home, and a lot of other things.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Will you..

IMAN BIBARS

I’ve finished.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay, you have finished. Iman Bibars, thank you very much indeed. I really want to take you up on a point you’ve made, you painted with a very broad brush. Talking of women, you say they were "all harmed": "they were all harmed". I mean, there are various revolutionaries that are being quoted. People have taken part, people have mobilised. Women have mobilised as never before on the streets of the big cities of Egypt. Isn’t that a huge achievement? Sarah Othman, revolutionary, she says: "After the revolution, women have gone a long way to gain more rights. The best example for this was Tawakkol Karman, the Nobel Prize-winner. The participation in the Arab Spring was sensational – very touching, very effective. I can now walk in the streets, feel dignity surrounding me." You don’t share any of this, do you?

IMAN BIBARS

I don’t think that suddenly women have participated; women have been participating for a long time. And we talk about results of a revolution that took place to get justice and equality and lack of discrimination so that they’re not discriminated against. Women have participated in several other types of institutions in the history of Egypt…

TIM SEBASTIAN

And they’ve fought and they’ve had successes, haven’t they?

IMAN BIBARS

Of course they have, but what I..

TIM SEBASTIAN

They campaigned against the military, who had forced virginity tests on them.

IMAN BIBARS

And I totally agree. However, what is the result? How many women are there? What is the discourse in the media now? It’s very demeaning towards women. How many women do we have in the parliament? The same as we had before. But..

TIM SEBASTIAN

But the most important thing is surely that the women now have a free vote. They have electoral power.

IMAN BIBARS

But women have always had a free vote.

TIM SEBASTIAN

But they can go out..

IMAN BIBARS

I mean, what do you mean by "free vote". As women, all Egyptians have a free vote now. But whom are they voting for, and how..

TIM SEBASTIAN

Yes. They can vote for people who promote their interests for the first time, can’t they?

IMAN BIBARS

I don’t think so. I think the electoral system in Egypt was not really geared towards voting. By enlarging the constituency, first you’re going to vote for those people who are organised enough to be able to have a large constituency.

TIM SEBASTIAN

You have a woman standing for president: Bothaina Kamel, the first woman ever to stand for president in Egypt.

IMAN BIBARS

Well, a lot of people are standing in Egypt.

TIM SEBASTIAN

It shows what’s possible, doesn’t it?

IMAN BIBARS

Oh, it shows what’s possible, but what is the result? The result is what …

TIM SEBASTIAN

Well, we can see the jury’s still out. The result – you said yourself it’s going to take ten, eleven years to see what the result is.

IMAN BIBARS

Well, that’s why I said in the after..

TIM SEBASTIAN

And they have a chance now that they’ve never had before.

IMAN BIBARS

But that’s why I said in the aftermath of the revolution, in this transition period now we are paying the price. In this time we are being attacked, we’re being asked to go home, we’re being demeaned more than ever.

TIM SEBASTIAN

You’re being attacked but you’re also fighting. Imam Bibars, we have to..

IMAN BIBARS

I will continue fighting, of course. We’ve always fought. It’s not the first time.

TIM SEBASTIAN

We have to move on. Okay. All right, thank you very much indeed. Now let me please ask Amel Jerary to speak against the motion.

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Amel Jerary

Speaking against the motion

Amel Jerary

AMEL JERARY

Thank you very much. Yes, I am against the motion. I do not believe that women, particularly from a Libyan perspective, will be worse off after the revolution. I would like to address that in five points: My first point is the fact that before the revolution the regime in Libya was known for being sexually corrupt. This fact prevented women from becoming involved or visible in society. The fear was that if we become very active and pioneers, that we would end up being forced into someone’s bed. So this fact is out of the way since the regime has gone. The second point related to the first one. Indeed, the regime was sexually corrupt. It had a reputation which was well-deserved. However, it might have also been to a certain extent used conveniently by society to prevent women from getting politically involved. Now that excuse is also out of the way. So now we can discover what Libya is all about and how conservative is our society in reality. My third point has to do with the National Transitional Council, which is our presiding body. We have out of 71 members two females. The interim government, 22 ministers, two of them are females. The number is pathetically low, yes, but sadly it’s the highest number of female representation we’ve ever had in the history of Libya. So it’s a good start. Also the election law is working on guaranteeing that in the upcoming National Congress we will have 20 percent of the members being female, which is also not excellent but a good start. So this all is in the right direction. My last point has to do with the fact that we believe the quality of life will improve in Libya in general. It’s a wealthy country. If we live to our potential, Libyan women will benefit on education and healthcare levels. So the revolution is an opportunity for us to move forward.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Amel Jerary, thank you very much indeed.

AMEL JERARY

You’re welcome.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Health and education just as it’s benefited women in Saudi Arabia? What’s health and education done for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia?

AMEL JERARY

I’m not saying that it will do much for women’s rights directly, but it will improve their quality of life. Women as well as men, quality of life will improve in Libya.

TIM SEBASTIAN

But we’re talking about rights, whether women are going to be better off in terms of their rights, in terms of their freedom.

AMEL JERARY

Well, that will not be done because Libya is a wealthy country; that will be done by women themselves. Women obtaining their own rights will be something that we need to work on.

TIM SEBASTIAN

But women have been more prominent in the revolution than they have been in a long time, and yet you say their representation is "pathetically low".

AMEL JERARY

It is. But compared to pre-revolution times..

TIM SEBASTIAN

Yes, but look – they’ve been on the streets, they’ve been out, and everybody’s seen them, and..

AMEL JERARY

And they still are.

TIM SEBASTIAN

.. and it still didn’t make any difference, did it?

AMEL JERARY

It will make a difference. This government is not elected; this government is appointed. Therefore I don’t think it’s fair to judge whether or not women have representation at this point. Wait until the elections take place. You should see Libya today: women are very active. We are having the..

TIM SEBASTIAN

"Women are very active"? There’s an NGO called Phoenix, which is based in Tripoli.

AMEL JERARY

Yes.

TIM SEBASTIAN

It recently sent out thousands of invites to women on a Know Your Rights lecture. Do you know how many people turned up to that lecture?

AMEL JERARY

No, I don’t.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Fifty. Fifty. Out of the thousands. Out of the thousands.

AMEL JERARY

There’s a lot of work to be done. Yes, yes, it’s not going to be easy. I’m not saying that things are going to happen overnight. We have forty years and even more of lack of participation of women. This change is not going to happen overnight. But at least after forty years of not doing anything, we can at least start now.

TIM SEBASTIAN

You talk about sexual corruption of the regime.

AMEL JERARY

Yes.

TIM SEBASTIAN

It wasn’t the regime; it was men, wasn’t it? It’s men who produce sexual corruption. They’re still there, aren’t they. They’re still going to be in positions of authority.

AMEL JERARY

Yes, but..

TIM SEBASTIAN

You’re still going to suffer from the same.. It hasn’t gone away just because the regime has gone, has it.

AMEL JERARY

Yes, but it’s different when you have a constitution which protects certain rights, fundamental rights. In the past the government was in charge and it was the people at the top of the government who were perpetrators.

TIM SEBASTIAN

And now you’ve got polygamy back. That’s a step forward?

AMEL JERARY

We have yet to have polygamy back.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Well, it’s been promised, hasn’t it, by the National Transitional authority.

AMEL JERARY

No, no, no, I wouldn’t say that it’s promised.

TIM SEBASTIAN

What did the interim prime minister say since coming back?

AMEL JERARY

I think you mean the head of the National Transitional Council.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Yes.

AMEL JERARY

Yes. He said that in a speech, and the public reaction made him explain himself and apologise for having said, that two days later.

TIM SEBASTIAN

He may have apologised, but he didn’t bring it back – he didn’t repudiate it?

AMEL JERARY

No, but he’s not reflective. He wasn’t elected. It’s hard to say he reflects the Libyan people at this point. You can’t say that at this point.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay. Amel Jerary, thank you very much indeed.

AMEL JERARY

Thank you.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Could I please ask now Khadija Arfaoui to speak for the motion, please.

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Khedija Arfaoui

Speaking for the motion

Khedija Arfaoui

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Thank you. Well, Tunisia has been for a long time described as a peaceful country. And this is not new, as a typical wedding contract in Qairowan dating from the Islamic conquest allowed a woman to even ask for a divorce or military funds if her husband had a second wife. Added to that, what is very important, it recorded a personal status that was promulgated by Habib Bourguiba back in 1956, which established judicial divorce and prohibited polygamy and repudiation. When the revolution broke out, women and men from all age groups were in the streets. This had never happened before. Fear was gone. Women have been taking part since then in public events, media, political meetings, NGOs, particularly in reaction to various Islamist declarations and Salafist aggressiveness and argument that they must stay home and not take men’s jobs. Keen on protecting their rights, we had pushed for a gender parity decree in the membership of the Constituent Assembly, which was the first in the Arab world. As a result, 49 women were elected, which may seem positive; but 42 of them are Islamists. So we only have six or however many women – seven, yes. So feminist activists are not in this Assembly. So the social landscape is not represented in this Constituent Assembly. Many of the declarations made by the members of the dominant party are threats to women, or are seen as threats to women. For example, single mothers are a disgrace, the Ennahda women said. And adoption of "bastards" should be prohibited. So there is the possibility of re-introducing conditional polygamy, recognition of Urfi marriage, prohibited in Tunisia in 1957. But it is declared by a woman minister. Foreign preachers are avenged by Salafist groups; one of them in particular known for his advocacy of excision, a barbarian practice unknown in Tunisia. He travelled throughout the country declaring that Tunisia needed to be Islamised. So he just went among the Tunisians, divided them between Muslims and apostates.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay. I’ll have to ask you to wrap up. Thank you.

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Yes.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Khadija Arfaoui, thank you very much indeed. You may not like the women you’ve got, but you’ve got 23 percent of the Assembly.

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

24.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Yes, 23/24 percent. That is larger than the US Congress, actually. So it’s not bad, is it?

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Yes. This is not bad.

TIM SEBASTIAN

So, and you’re maintaining that women are worse off after the Arab revolutions?

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

No, this is not bad, except that they ought to represent the..

TIM SEBASTIAN

"That’s not bad" – it’s a huge step.

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

No.

TIM SEBASTIAN

It’s a huge step, isn’t it?

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

It is, yes, yes.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Women are using their electoral power at the ballot box. They may even elect some women that you like in future.

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Let’s hope so.

TIM SEBASTIAN

That’s also a possibility. You have your gender parity law – that’s been passed, that’s secure. And the Ennahda party has said that it’s not going to roll back the rights of women. So you’ve got a promise.

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Yes. Then we have to keep that promise. We are working. We are working.

TIM SEBASTIAN

So everything is set fair. So what have you got to complain about?

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

We’ll see whether they will keep their promise.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Yes, but you haven’t got anything to complain about at the moment, have you?

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Oh yes, we are complaining, because the government is not taking the necessary steps in reaction to the many aggressions that we are victims of as women.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Well, give it time – it’s only just arrived, hasn’t it?

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Well, yes. Well, it’s still..

TIM SEBASTIAN

It’s got a lot to do. It’s got an economy that’s on the verge of collapse.

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

It’s still, you know, a big concern to see that the street is infested by people who tell you, "Stay home. Go to your kitchen. Take care of your children. And you are taking men’s jobs."

TIM SEBASTIAN

Well, you can answer back, can’t you?

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Yes, if we are not beaten up and then the police does not react to protect you.

TIM SEBASTIAN

There aren’t that many beatings, are there?

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

There are a few. But even men are beaten up.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Yes, exactly. [Audience laughter]

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Right. Even men.

TIM SEBASTIAN

So that’s okay, then, is it? Khadija Arfaoui, thank you very much indeed. Now could I please ask Rabab el-Mahdi to speak against the motion, please.

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Rabab El Mahdi

Speaking against the motion

Rabab El Mahdi

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Thank you, Tim. I wish to make three points against the motion: The first is that it’s very disrespectful to women. And I don’t think that this motion would have been asked if we weren’t talking about specifically Arab revolutions, where the majority of the population that we’re talking about are Arab and Muslim women. I think this association between gender rights and freedoms is very dangerous. It’s very disrespectful to women, who were agents and not just passive subjects of those revolutions. We made those revolutions happen and, as much as we were able to take down formidable dictatorships, we will be able to protect our rights. And no one should be doubting this. My second point is that the motion dismisses the fact that, historically and universally speaking, women have gained their rights through mass mobilisation. And there isn’t a more opportune moment for mass mobilisation to happen than revolutions. The biggest marches I’ve ever seen in my life happened two months ago in Egypt, predominantly a women’s march. This is something that I’ve never seen in my life – and I’ve been working for this a lot. The third point that I wish to make against the motion is the fact that the minimal rights that Arab women in general were handed down by elite women who were associated with Suzanne Mubarak and the likes only benefited a very small slice of the population. The poverty, the violence against women that both speakers on the other side have mentioned, the harassment, are things that we’ve had to live with – including the meagre representation of women in parliament. This is not something new or something that came with the revolution or with the rise of a particular political trend; this is something that we’ve been living with under dictatorship. At least now we are taking that cap off. No one will be handing down women their rights. Women finally have a chance to fight for their rights, gain them, and to actually define what their rights are – not for their rights to be defined through a particular frame of reference or paradigm. I just want to make something very quickly.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Very briefly. You’ve run out of time.

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Okay. I’m good. I’m happy to leave it at that. Thank you.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Rabab el-Mahdi, thank you very much indeed. You may not like the motion very much, but it is what a lot of women throughout the Arab region are talking about.

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Who are the women you are talking to on this?

TIM SEBASTIAN

"I have never been so worried about women’s freedom as I am now" – this is from the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women. "I’ve never been so worried.." Nawal El Sadaawi, Egyptian feminist author, says: "There is a revival of Islamist groups and Salafi groups. Whenever you have a revival of them, you have a backlash against women." It’s what women are talking about.

RABAB EL-MAHDI

That’s the question: who are the women? You give me a couple of examples of elite women who define themselves in a very particular way.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Elite women?

RABAB EL-MAHDI

And you tell me that this represents the majority of Arab women?

TIM SEBASTIAN

How about the human rights groups – Amnesty International, for instance?

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Again, oh, I..

TIM SEBASTIAN

"Despite Egyptian women’s heavy participation in the Arab Spring, women’s rights have not been addressed in Libya and Egypt."

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Okay, with all due respect, neither Amnesty or anyone else sets the yardstick that we measure against. Talk to Egyptian women.

TIM SEBASTIAN

But they’re talking to women. Where do you think these conclusions come from? They’re talking to Egyptian women.

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Oh, no, as a researcher and an activist, I know. They come, they talk to me and another couple of people with curly hair who speak English, and they make conclusions.

TIM SEBASTIAN

And they’ve also been talking to your political parties, haven’t they. And they’ve been talking to the new political parties in the Assembly as well. On January 24th they produced a report and they said: "Most of the biggest Egyptian political parties have either given mixed signals or have flatly refused to sign up to ending discrimination and protecting women’s rights."

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Absolutely, and this has been the case with all political..

TIM SEBASTIAN

And that’s no concern? And that’s no concern at all?

RABAB EL-MAHDI

No, that has been the case with our political parties before and after the revolution.

TIM SEBASTIAN

So you’re not worried about that at all? That’s all fine?

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Absolutely not. Finally we actually have free political parties that can make choices, and that we can force to make choices.

TIM SEBASTIAN

And nine women in the Assembly.

RABAB EL-MAHDI

How many women did we have earlier, except for the one time where Suzanne Mubarak passed a quota so that she can get more NDP women? The other thing is that women representation, even back – that this has been the case.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Your point being? Your point being? They were women. They were women.

RABAB EL-MAHDI

They were women. Women representation does not mean that you adopt gender rights. This is something that we know. Some women are more..

TIM SEBASTIAN

But the loss is a catastrophe, isn’t it? The loss of seats in the Assembly, it’s a catastrophe.

RABAB EL-MAHDI

No, the loss of seats, when those seats are being assigned by Suzanne Mubarak for her entourage, is not a catastrophe.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay, all right. Thank you, Rabab El-Mahdi, thank you very much indeed. Right, we are now going to discuss the motion that ‘This House believes that women will be worse off after the Arab revolutions’, and we will take your questions. Gentleman in the back row there, in the blue shirt. Yes, you, sir.

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Audience questions

AUDIENCE (M)

Thanks. My name is Nabil and I’m from Egypt. My question is to Rabab: you’re saying that not any more, women are not going to be handed down their rights, and you seem to not be worried at all about the rise of Islamists, especially in Egypt – I’ll speak for Egypt because I am Egyptian. Are you aware that in the Islamic religion, in order to have a legislative system, it’s all derived from Sharia law, it’s all derived from stuff that is literally set in stone. So when you tell me that, "No, now we have the freedom and we’re not going to be handed down our rights" when the majority of the parliament is Islamists, I’m sorry but yes, you are going to be handed down your rights. Everything is already predetermined and preset; there’s not much that you can do about the rights, or there’s not much that you can vote upon to change, because not everything in Sharia can be voted upon.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay. Do you want to answer that?

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Yes, absolutely. First of all, the Egyptian constitution before the revolution, the 1971 revolution, had the second article that said that all our laws are derived from the principles of the Sharia, not Sharia. This means that we are bound by multiple interpretations of what Sharia means. This is not changing. There isn’t anything that happened about this after the revolution. And hence I don’t see where the revolution specifically worsens the situation of women. And the other thing I want to stress..

TIM SEBASTIAN

Well, let him come back on that, because he clearly thinks it does.

AUDIENCE (M)

It’s not that the revolution changed this. But after the revolution, Islamists, which were sort of caged during the whole dictatorship, finally came to power and now they’re the majority. Being the majority in the parliament means that they can vote on anything they want, they can pass whatever laws they think are most fit for the country. That being the case, and that clause you’re talking about, clause No. 2, still giving them the option or the possibility of whatever interpretation they see fit from the Islamic point of view, they’ll still be able to pass these laws. And you still have nothing to do about it?

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Shall I just say a couple of..?

TIM SEBASTIAN

Briefly. Briefly.

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Okay. A couple of things. First of all, the political processes are not just determined by parliament. There are different forms of political participation – street mobilisation.

AUDIENCE (M)

Of course. But parliament plays the biggest part.

RABAB EL-MAHDI

And this can actually stop laws that we might not want. The other thing: again, the Islamists within the parliament adopt various positions on a number of things. They’re not this one homogenous bloc. Plus, they were chosen democratically. And this is something that I respect very much.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay. I want to bring Iman Bibars in on this.

IMAN BIBARS

I have a couple of… First of all, I actually don’t think that parliament represent the Egyptians. Because, again, it is not that – yes, people went and voted, but how was the voting happening? Again, the constituencies, where you vote, changed from a quarter of a million people to five million people. You needed an overview, geographical insights of the electoral constituency. Which means you have to be organised and have a lot of money. Even the youth did not have that much money in order to run for office.

AMEL JERARY

Is this what it achieved under NDP?

IMAN BIBARS

We’re not comparing – we didn’t want the.. The idea is you went..

AMEL JERARY

No, the motion is comparing.

IMAN BIBARS

No, no, no, no, no. The motion is saying: "Did we vote, did the Egyptians go through revolution so that they become equal to what happens in the new NDP, or to become better? Did we have a revolution so that we have equality for everybody – women and Christians – or not, or so that we have people like we had during the NDP?"

AUDIENCE (M)

Can I just come to closing remarks?

IMAN BIBARS

Did we have a revolution so that the Islamists can come and take over and demean women and call us awrah and tell us to go back into the…

RABAB EL-MAHDI

They’re Egyptians who were democratically elected.

IMAN BIBARS

We are seeing why this is happening to the Arab world. How many revolutions in the West happen, like in East Europe, for example, where leaders came all over the TV and said women – I just want to say this. But..

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay. All right, we’re getting slightly – I’m just going to ask the questioner just to give us a final say on this.

AUDIENCE (M)

I’m just going to come to closing remarks. You might be right about them not being a homogeneous bloc – there’s the Salafis, there’s the Muslim Brotherhood, who are a little bit more pacifist. But in my personal opinion, I don’t think that women in Egypt or anywhere else in the world right now are at any point where they can just let their guard down and be like, "Oh, we’re going to be better off. Everything is going to be peaches from now on." I think the fight is still far from done.

TIM SEBASTIAN

All right, okay. I’m going to take a question from..

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Yes. Fight for kids – the youth do.

AMEL JERARY

That’s quite a different sense.

TIM SEBASTIAN

I’m going to take a question from the gentleman in the front row, please. If you’d stand up, we’ll get a microphone to you.

AUDIENCE (M)

Hello. I am from Birmingham in the UK; originally I am from Iraq. And my question is to Khadija. Now that Tunisia has had its part in the Arab Spring, it’s begun to elect religious dominated parties such as Ennahda and the extreme Salafists. Do you not think that by the enforcement of Sharia law by these religious parties women will be forced to follow actions they do not want to follow, one of them being the veil?

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Well, this is the main issue. I don’t think that we – women: I am part of this feminist movement; I have been in it for years now – we are not ready for that. And so we are watching very closely. You know, that the Constituent Assembly was "democratically elected", and so there is nothing we can say. It was elected to write a constitution, and they have just started now.

TIM SEBASTIAN

But a lot of Tunisian women, as the questioner suggests, are frightened stiff, aren’t they, of what’s going to happen?

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Yes, absolutely. Yes, very.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Do you see this as the battleground?

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

And men, I would say. And men. So we are not alone. We have men around us supporting us. So I am confident in that. And right now we are going through very hard times, but I am not very, but positive about the future.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Amel Jerary, you don’t share any of this concern? If Islamist governments come to power in many of the states in the Middle East, you don’t share this concern?

AMEL JERARY

I have to take issue with the term "Islamist", I’m afraid. When you say "Islamist", you’re insinuating that other groups in Libya are not Islamist. And Libya is 100 percent Muslim. We’re all Sunnis. So any political party would be a Muslim Islamist party. I think you mean parties that use Islam as a political agenda. And they differ.

TIM SEBASTIAN

And when we see a clash between religion and politics?

AMEL JERARY

Yes. In Libya things are not quite clear yet. The whole revolution and the liberation of Libya is not very far in the past. So things are developing. The Salafi groups that are in Egypt and in Tunisia, in Libya they will not be playing a political role in the short term, because they follow the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia and they do not organise themselves politically. The Muslim Brotherhood, their problems aren’t..

TIM SEBASTIAN

But you’ll understand the concerns of people in Tunisia, I presume?

AMEL JERARY

I do understand it. It’s good that they are ahead of us, because we can learn from them. It’s good to be sandwiched between Tunisia and Egypt and learn from their experiences.

TIM SEBASTIAN (to questioner)

Okay. You asked the question: where do you stand on this?

AUDIENCE (M)

Where do I stand on this?

TIM SEBASTIAN

As a mere male, of course, but, you know, as…

AUDIENCE (M)

As a male? Well, do you want my..

TIM SEBASTIAN

That’s right, yes. What’s your view on this?

AUDIENCE (M)

My view? I believe women should not be forced to take any action they do not want to take part in. I mean, wearing the veil – I’m not going to force the woman I marry to wear a veil. I’m not going to force her to wear long sleeves and not talk to anybody. I would let her drive, for a start. [Audience laughter, applause]

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Can I ask a question?

IMAN BIBARS

I just want to say something.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Iman Bibars was waiting, and then I’ll come to you. Iman Bibars.

IMAN BIBARS

I think the real issue here has been all these debates about women’s dress. We are not worried from the religious trends, whatever we want to call them, because of what they’re going to make women wear or not. It’s what this means: it means that a revolution took place so everybody is equal. The minorities should not be discredited. And if you start to discredit and exclude one group – whether it’s the weakest link, which is women, and then the Christians in Egypt – then later on they will discredit others. And that will affect education. If you come with people who so limited in the way they are thinking, so that they want to discredit others, and they’ve been there for eight years trying to get to power, we should not be saying it’s the same like before the revolution; the revolution took place so that things become better. And I am not worried about who is going to force me to wear whatever – I’m worried about what this really means to us, how this is affecting our position and the poor women. I work with 100,000 poor women, and they are being affected every day. It is not sexual harassment..

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay, all right.

IMAN BIBARS

It’s not a sexual harassment of the middle class; it’s a harassment of "Go back home and don’t work."

TIM SEBASTIAN

All right. Rabab El-Mahdi.

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Okay. So basically I very much appreciate that you have this very gender-sensitive position, which means that you equally will not want her to wear or force her to wear a miniskirt or something of the sort, right? Because women own their body and should not be objectified. However where..

TIM SEBASTIAN

I think he was making that point.

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Yes. Where is the point where we are seeing that women are being forced to do either? Where are we seeing it in any of the cases after the Arab Spring?

AUDIENCE (M)

After the Arab Spring?

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Yes. After the revolutions. Are we seeing women being forced to wear the veil or the miniskirt?

AUDIENCE (M)

Well, the Islamist parties coming, they do follow Sharia law. And I’m pretty sure that in Sharia law the veil is admired, veil is considered by them. They feel that women should wear a veil, they should go out with a veil.

RABAB EL-MAHDI

It’s a considered as a fard, but that does not mean that they will force it on women.

AUDIENCE (M)

I’m not saying they will force it on their women.

TIM SEBASTIAN

A lot of women in Tunisia are being told, aren’t they, to wear the veil in the street? You said they would be..

IMAN BIBARS

We are told to wear the veil in the streets.

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Yes, you know, what is interesting is that under the president..

RABAB EL-MAHDI

We’ve been told just as much as people preachers and just as much as by the general public..

IMAN BIBARS

And women are being beaten in the rural and urban areas. They are being beaten to wear the veil.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Let her finish. Khadija. Excuse me. Excuse me, Khadija Arfaoui. Will you stop, please. Please, if everybody talks at once nobody hears anything.

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Under this regime Islamists were not allowed to even.. I had a former student who liked to have a beard. He was not an Islamist, but he liked to have a beard. And he was stopped every time – because he would drive from Bizerte to Tunis. He said, "The day I shaved my beard they stopped stopping me." So they will harass women also who wearing the veil could not work, so they had to take the veil off. It was funny, you know. And what I can tell you is that we, the democrats, men and women, we defended them. The lawyers defended them. We all took their side. And now that they have power, they are doing the same thing to us. This is not fair. So I can join in your point of view.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay, all right. I’m going to take another question. I’m alarmed to see that there are more men than women who are asking questions, but I’d love to see an equal number. There’s a woman there, yes, in the third row. Thank you.

AUDIENCE (F)

Hello. I’m Egyptian. My question is for the proposition party. We’re heading towards democracy now. So that was, you know, what the revolution was about. And then everyone was suppressed before, not only women – there were like the Christians, a lot of the – basically anyone who goes against Mubarak. And there wasn’t really that much of a voice. You couldn’t voice out your opinions or have some kind of.. Like, for example, Ayman Nour when he ran for presidency..

TIM SEBASTIAN

Could you come to a question, please?

AUDIENCE (F)

..he was jailed. So I think that if we are truly democratic, even if the Islamists rule, they’re not going to be – we’re not stuck with them for life if we don’t want them.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay. Iman Bibars, do you want to comment on that?

IMAN BIBARS

This is where I’m worried. I think we are going to be stuck with them for some time, and I think for several reasons. I think we are going to be stuck with them because there has been this forging between the two male-gendered institutions of the army and the Muslim Brotherhood. I think we’re going to be stuck with them because we have high rates of illiteracy, and because it is going to be very difficult to get rid of them in the near future. I think we’re going to get stuck with them, with whatever they misinterpret the religion for. I don’t think they’re going after five years. They are already disqualifying and discrediting everybody who’s going against them, whether because of their forging the dealership with the old regime or with the army. I don’t think we are that – I don’t see..

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay, you think they’re going to be around for some time to come.

IMAN BIBARS

Yes.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Rabab el-Mahdy, what do you think?

RABAB EL-MAHDI

I completely agree. That’s exactly my point. We need to have confidence in ourselves and we need to respect people’s choices. We have 27 million voters who voted the Islamists into office, and a lot of them are women who identified with whatever the Islamists have to offer, socio-economically or religiously or in whatever capacity. This is something if we wish to provide an alternative, we should just provide an alternative. But not threaten people because of free choices that they made.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay. I’m going to take a question from the lady in the front row.

AUDIENCE (F)

Good evening. I am from Qatar. I feel that there’s a vibe that there’s kind of an unfair attack on Islamists and Islamic groups. And we just came from a regime in Tunisia which basically prevented – almost suppressed, let’s say – any Islamic practice. And I don’t understand why we’re fearing them now, because this is the thing: people – if you’re talking normal people – they take the word of God as the primary law before the state, so they’re going to follow Islamic practice anyway. And if they were suppressed before, they don’t want to be suppressed now. So why are we fearing the reintroduction of Islamic law or Islamic principles into our current democratic practices?

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay. Khadija Arfaoui.

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Oh, listen. The Tunisian leaders now, most of them belong to Ennahda, and most of them have been in jail and were tortured while they were in jail, they all promised that they will not change anything in the status of women – that they will keep the Code of Personal Status as it is, and that they will even improve it. And several others have been saying the same thing. In the meantime they have been making statements that contradict. For example, the prime minister speaks of a sixth caliphate, and everybody is shocked and he says, "No, no, no, this is not what I meant." Then something about – then we have these Salafists aggressing people – aggressing them physically; verbally and physically – and the government does not react. Does not react. Whereas we had a director of a TV station jailed for a photo that was published on Facebook. So the government does not know where to stand. We are not against..

TIM SEBASTIAN

You don’t think those are – let me go back to the questioner: you don’t think those are legitimate causes of concern? Can you stand up, please, so we can see you.

AUDIENCE (F)

I think it’s okay to consider them causes of concern, but at the same time it’s too early to start framing all of these people just because, like you said, they have a beard or something. I think this is an unfair kind of generalisation.

TIM SEBASTIAN

I don’t think that’s what she was saying, was it?

AUDIENCE (F)

Yes, I agree that she did make some valid points, but I’m talking about the general perception that there is this kind of new fear. I know that the government doesn’t know where to stand – it’s difficult: you transition from something completely opposite. But at the same time, do we outcast them like before, using different reasons?

IMAN BIBARS

No. But can I say something?

TIM SEBASTIAN

Iman Bibars, yes.

IMAN BIBARS

We have done a count in the media of the declarations by religious leaders, whether they’re Salafis or MBs (Muslim Brothers), and there was 1,344 declarations that said four things: Women are mafsada in the parliament: they’re going to corrupt the parliament. Women’s voices are awrah – which is a sin, or I don’t know what awrah would be. Women should go back home and they should not be part of the society. The personal status law, which only is about custody and about the right to divorce, khula, which al Shari based on religion should be repealed. 1,344 declarations in one year. You know, and we’re not scared? Yes, I’m scared.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay. Amel Jerary, you want to come in there?

AMEL JERARY

I wanted to just bring up your point that I thought was a very valid one. If we’re going to talk about the true values of Islam, I think anyone would welcome them. If we’re talking about a political party which would say: "We will introduce and apply the values of Islam justice, equality, tolerance," anyone would welcome them: they coincide very well with the values of democracy or human rights, whatever. The issue I think that we have – and it’s easy to blame the Islamist groups, the so-called Islamist groups, but that’s not the only problem we have. We have social awareness issues that we have to work on in Libya. There are many other things that we can do now to help improve our society. It’s easy to say "the Islamists and the fear" and everything, but I don’t think that’s the only problem that we have, if it is a problem. We have several other issues that we need to address, which will bring us forward.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay, lady in the front row, you have a question.

AUDIENCE (F)

Hello, I’m from Syria. Of course, I cannot talk about my country and the cases that are happening now there, since it’s still under the hands of the bloody dictator. But I can talk about other countries in the Arab world, since I consider myself as a concerned citizen. So my question is for the ladies against the motion. Don’t you think that, of course, everyone has a concern when it comes to Islamic or political Islam, and we cannot dismiss that, of course. But still, don’t you think the bigger problem would be that the wave of Islamisation that happened across the Arab world, especially in the Nineties, is not only political; it’s socially and cultural. And in my opinion, my concern as a woman, is the way women think more than men, and the way that they’re indoctrinated to think in such a way that limits themselves, and they’re not willing to open up to all these opportunities out there. While in the Sixties and Seventies they were much more willing to do so.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay. Let’s have Rabab el-Mahdi to add to that.

RABAB EL-MAHDI

A couple of things. First, I think we should actually question how we think. Instead of asking women to question their beliefs, I think we should question our belief regarding what we think is the proper woman. I think there are inherent biases: that we were socialised, especially women who think of themselves as progressive or something, that we tend to underestimate, we tend to associate Islamisation with backwardness. We tend to associate the veil with not being empowered – let alone the niqab, of course. We tend to associate Islamisation of society with regression of women’s rights. And I think this is something that we need to question first. The other thing, regarding what happened in the Seventies..

TIM SEBASTIAN

The questioner just wants to come back in just on that point.

AUDIENCE (F)

I just think the whole – going back to the veil, that’s a very Western perspective of what is a woman and the Arab woman and what the rights I’m talking about. But we really don’t care – the veil is the least of our problems. I’m talking about the ability to be educated and travel abroad, for example, to do her Master’s without having a male chaperon or a mehram (chaperone). If, for example, that a principle that is applied in Saudi Arabia is applied today, none of you would be able to sit here and talk their minds.

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Let me tell you, because you use the Sixties and the Seventies, the percentage of female enrolment in the Arab world now is much higher – in some cases it’s quadruple what it was in the Sixties and the Seventies. Those are real perspectives that we need to look at, and that’s why I think with..

TIM SEBASTIAN

And female unemployment has gone up correspondingly.

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Just as male unemployment.

TIM SEBASTIAN

It’s much higher. It’s much higher. There are more women graduates and more women are unemployed than men.

AUDIENCE (F)

Because it’s good to.. Yes, it’s better to have a certificate, to have a better groom.

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Yeah, but I mean, and there is a problem of non-equal pay in all countries.

TIM SEBASTIAN

I’m sorry. Okay, she wanted to say something.

AUDIENCE (F)

No, I was saying, because it’s better to have a degree to get a better groom. That’s the concept around in the Arab world. So many of them actually – and I have many friends myself, that they have all these fancy degrees that they have at home, but they’re not willing to help and produce in their economy and in their society, just because that’s the..

RABAB EL-MAHDI

But that’s a choice we need to respect. That’s a choice, whether women work inside the home or outside the home, is equally – one of them is not more progressive than the other. This is exactly why I say we need to question what we think of as progressive.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay. Khadija Arfaoui, you wanted to come in on this?

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Yes, I would like to go back to the Code of Personal Status that was implemented in 1956.

TIM SEBASTIAN

In Tunisia.

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

In Tunisia. In Tunisia. When it was implemented, when it was promulgated, we did not have this Islamist movement. If Bourguiba had not promulgated the Code of Personal Status then, in this context it would never have been promulgated. So this is, to go back to the..

TIM SEBASTIAN

So what is your point?

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

The point that we have to be very vigilant today. So when you say, "What is the problem now if Islamists are in the government?" – we have to watch, because if they write something in the constitution that infringes on those rights, then we are lost.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Do you share that view? Let me just go back to the questioner: do you share that view?

AUDIENCE (F)

Honestly, I didn’t really understand her point. I didn’t really understand your point, sorry, the last part.

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Yes. Yes, because today, for example, why did Bourguiba legalise – for example, he abolished polygamy. He said: "The Koran says you can have four wives provided you treat them equally, and this is not possible. So therefore you can have one wife." For legal divorce, why? It was for protecting women and her children. And today many young girls are getting "married", according to the Urfi marriage, and several are seeking abortion today. So where are we?

IMAN BIBARS

Can I say something?

TIM SEBASTIAN

Very quickly, and then we’re going to move on from there.

IMAN BIBARS

Yes, quickly. This is not about people being against the veil or not the veil. We are only against the lack of freedom of choice. I think I should respect anybody – it’s your choice. But it should be your choice. What the declarations of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is saying now, it is not your choice. I have the declarations. Several of the announcements: 1,344 – this is a lot of declarations against women. And it’s not about the dress. Dress whatever you want, but don’t force me to do something I don’t want to do.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay. I’m going to take a question from the lady up there.

AUDIENCE (F)

Good evening. I’m Tunisian, actually, and I think Khadija Arfaoui contradicted herself when she was talking about how in the period of Ben Ali like no woman could wear her hijab. I couldn’t wear my hijab when he was there. Now I can walk on the street freely with my hijab. Or is it that hijab doesn’t count as a right because it’s an Islamic practice?

IMAN BIBARS

That is not what we’re saying.

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

No, no, this is not the problem. You know, the question is not how many hijabs are in the country but our problem is how many jobs can you create? Because people are hungry. People want jobs. I mean, this is not a question at all – and we have never been against. I mean, did I say we were against the hijab? No. I said..

AUDIENCE (F)

But you said that Ennahda is kind of forcing everyone to wear the veil, earlier. And just to put it..

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

I didn’t say Ennahda; I said Salafists. Ennahda allows Salafists to act as they want.

AUDIENCE (F)

Well, the Salafists are doing things and promoting violence under the name of Ennahda, and Ennahda is not doing anything. Actually, the government is not doing anything. And we have a secular president because the.. So on the one part we want freedom of expression, and now you want them to oppress the Salafists? Like what do we want exactly?

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

No, no, I don’t understand your question, sorry.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Yes, what do you want?

AUDIENCE (F)

I’m saying that she’s contradicting herself.

IMAN BIBARS

No, she’s not.

AUDIENCE (F)

Like she’s saying that Salafists are being aggressive, and now everyone wants..

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

They are.

AUDIENCE (F)

.. or they want everyone to wear the hijab and the veil, and..

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

They are.

AUDIENCE (F)

And they want women to stay at home.

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Yes.

IMAN BIBARS

She was not happy with the old regime either. She’s not happy with anybody, including anybody.

AUDIENCE (F)

But Tunisia has always been a free country.

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

I was sentenced to nine months’ jail with the previous regime for a ridiculous message that was sent to me via Facebook. So I was not for the previous regime, believe me.

AUDIENCE (F)

I’m not saying you are. But I’m saying that we’re just limiting the conversation between Islamists and secularists, and that’s it. Like one politician says that Ennahda, if it runs for elections in Egypt, it would pass as a secular party. That’s how moderate it is. And now we’re..

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay, we’re not going to limit the conversation. We’re actually going to move on, I think. Because there’s a woman there – yes.

AUDIENCE (F)

Hi. I’m from Canada. My question is for Khadija. I’m trying to understand what you want for Tunisia. I’m trying to understand because you said, I think, there is 42 women in parliament, right? How many?

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Yeah, there are 49 women. 42 of them are Islamist.

AUDIENCE (F)

42 are Islamist. So is that problematic for you? It’s not going to..

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

No, no, I mean that society, the Tunisian social landscape is not truly represented.

AUDIENCE (F)

Okay. And I’m just trying to understand if they were all men but they weren’t Islamists and they were representing your rights… This is what I’m trying to get. I feel like we’re equating seats in parliament with how women are going to be later. And I don’t think that’s – I kind of feel bad for the men, because they could be very well representing women’s rights and making women much better off than the women who are sitting in parliament occupying a seat.

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Yes, sure. Yes.

AUDIENCE (F)

So how are these 42 women, then – like I feel like you’re creating this monolithic image of Islamists, and it goes back to Amel’s point that we’re really looking at things in a very tunnel-vision, very stereotypical way, and I don’t think you’re giving the parliament a chance. I don’t think it’s been long enough to pass this kind of..

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

They have all the chance. I mean, they are there. It’s evident.

AUDIENCE (F)

Yes, of course they’re there. Not enough time has passed for you to be able to pass judgments. You just seem very unhappy with the regime.

IMAN BIBARS

But you can be concerned.

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Yes, you can be, yes.

AUDIENCE (F)

Of course. But for you to say completely and..

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

.. to be concerned about the rights that we have for our families, for our children. This is all.

AUDIENCE (F)

But you cannot substantiate the motion.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Amel Jerary. I’m going to bring Amel Jerary in here.

AMEL JERARY

I understand what you’re saying, and I appreciate the answer. Also I don’t like us distancing ourselves from what’s happening in our countries, and saying "they": "they are doing this and they are doing that". Because I know that in Libya we are 50 percent – women are 50 percent of the society at least, maybe in Tunisia more. We have a lot of work to do. We have to do it. This is what we fought for. The revolution was so that we can get what we want. We want all Libyans, all Tunisians, all Egyptians, wherever they come from, whatever ideologies they have, we want them to feel like this is their country. Getting there is going to be very messy. We’re going to have messy discussions, we’re going to have arguments. But that’s what we want: in the end I think we will find the balance that will work for Libya, for Tunisia, for Egypt. It will be very unique. I think we have to go through this, but we can’t dismiss this and say, "They are doing this." We are an active part. We really need to be active and working hard on the real issues so that we can mobilise ourselves and achieve them.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay.

AUDIENCE (F)

You just said it: 50 percent are women. If there were 50 percent vote men into parliament, and they’re representative of their wants and their needs, then what is the problem?

AMEL JERARY

Then that’s it. Yes.

AUDIENCE (F)

And I just think, Khadija, I just feel like you’re projecting this very negative image and I do believe the motion is very presumptuous as well.

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Well, the negative image comes out if you put all the things together. I mean, aggressions against women not wearing the hijab – professors, who are dressed as I am, being aggressed by their students telling them: "You are not decently dressed." And then they beat them up, you know?

IMAN BIBARS

I just want to make just one point, and I keep on repeating myself.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Then please don’t. If you’ve said it already, there’s really no need. Okay?

IMAN BIBARS

No, no, just one little thing. No, no, I am serious. No, no, one point.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Once was enough.

IMAN BIBARS

One point. One point. Again, the parliament does not represent the revolution. How many Christians and young people – forget women – were in the parliament saying that this represents the Egyptians? Look at how the elections happened. Before we say anything, again, look at how the elections took place and the system there.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay. Rabab el-Mahdi.

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Yes. As a political scientist, I just cannot let this go. The whole idea that when we choose elections, the universal suffrage, as a way of electing leaders has defects. But we cannot bring this out every time the elections come up with something that we do not like. We’ve agreed to the rules, that those are the rules we want to play. The assumption that representation means – that I have 10 percent of Copts in Egypt and hence 10 percent of the parliament need to be Copts, or I have 50 percent of women, then 50 percent need – that doesn’t work anywhere in the world. That’s one of the problems of electoral systems altogether. It has nothing to do with the revolution or with Egypt or with the Arab world. Not the elections that we had before, which were rigged, which people were actually forced out, and some of them died because they couldn’t win. What are we talking about?

IMAN BIBARS

We’re talking about the larger constitution either does not represent..

RABAB EL-MAHDI

And faking elections and rigging elections, that was really represented?

IMAN BIBARS

Who said before..? Why are you assuming I’m saying before was better? Nobody’s saying before was better.

AMEL JERARY

But that was the sense of your motion.

IMAN BIBARS

No, that’s not our motion. Our motion’s that things..

AMEL JERARY

It is the motion.

IMAN BIBARS

That’s not our motion.

AMEL JERARY

No, it’s called worse. "Worse" means that it’s getting bad…

IMAN BIBARS

No. "Worse off.

TIM SEBASTIAN

You’ll be "worse off". Yes, you’ll be "worse off after the revolutions".

IMAN BIBARS

"Worse off. Worse off." But that doesn’t mean they were better than..

TIM SEBASTIAN

That’s the motion. I’m going to move on. Gentleman in the second row. Thank you.

IMAN BIBARS

Yeah. Well, that’s not my motion, actually.

AUDIENCE (M)

I’m from Pakistan. And my question over here was – if you’re talking about women and their rights, and Miss Rabab talked about women can fight and women can define their rights: but do you think the Arab world is ready for that much freedom for women in the social structure? You have an example of an Egyptian young lady publicising online for her rights and saying that "This is my act of freedom" – and we saw what happened to her: there were so many people, she got so many death threats.

TIM SEBASTIAN

This is the woman who published nude pictures of herself online?

AUDIENCE (M)

Published a nude picture on October 23rd.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Rabab el-Mahdi.

RABAB EL-MAHDI

I think the question, again – this was exactly the point that Omar Suleiman and Mubarak said: that we are not ready for democracy – I think it’s condescending and patronising. The woman who photographed herself nude – she received threats as much as I receive threats from SCAF, so it has nothing to do with nudity per se. She wasn’t beaten to death, nothing happened to her, whether legally or extra-legally. This happens in societies all the time. I think there is something essentially problematic about the question that there are some societies who deserve and are ready for freedom and others who are not.

AUDIENCE (M)

Where do you think you’d draw the line, then? Someone’s posing nude today and they could have rallies tomorrow. Where do you think the Islamic world would be, or the Arab world would be ready for that, or the government would be ready for that?

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Just as much as any society in any culture is ready for freedom and pays a price and comes up with solutions for and limitations and draws that line. Why are Arabs particularly a strange pedigree that we need to question whether they’re ready for freedoms or not?

AUDIENCE (M)

You said that, compared to any culture, it would be the same. So taking the example of the US: there are rallies for specific groups, such as the gays and the lesbians. Do you see Egypt coming up with a rally of gays and lesbians in the near future?

RABAB EL-MAHDI

There is also, let me remind you, something called the Ku Klux Klan in the US, which actually still believes in white supremacy. I think different societies promote social movements of different sorts. When and if the Arab society believes that they need a social movement for any rights, be it gays or non-gays, they will be able to do it as much as any societies did. If they don’t see that this is a right that people should fight for – which they actually don’t, because we don’t see those movements – then we cannot judge and say that that’s because they’re not ready for freedom, as opposed to saying that they chose that they do not want this specific freedom at that point.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay. Gentleman in the third row, I’m going to take a question from you.

AUDIENCE (M)

Hello. I’m from Cyprus; I’m Greek Cypriot. I just wanted to clarify that when the revolutions happened they were all for democracy, instilling democracy within these countries. As a Christian, I don’t care what the countries want as long as the people’s voice is heard. That’s what democracy is. Now, when the majority wants an Islamic government, then that’s what’s going to happen. No one said democracy is perfect, and no one said that democracy after a revolution would bring every social change that these countries wanted.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay. So your point is what?

AUDIENCE (M)

My point is that it needs time for the women to go… It’s a more social problem; it’s not that democracy or women’s representation within the parliament will bring them these rights. It needs a social change. Women need to fight, need to be educated for this, they need to fight for this. So.

AMEL JERARY

Yes. Exactly. Yes, that’s where we need to focus. Yes. And it takes time.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay. I don’t think anybody would quarrel with that. Lady up there. We’ll get a comment or a question from you. Thank you.

AUDIENCE (F)

I have one comment, actually, about Iman’s point. Women do have rights in Islam. A lot of people, what they don’t understand, I’ve noticed, is wearing the hijab is a choice. Staying at home or being a stay-at-home mother or being a career woman, it is a choice.

IMAN BIBARS

Yes. That’s what I said.

KHADIJA ARFAOUI

Agreed.

AUDIENCE (F)

And all these honour killings, and people – they’re not honour killings. First of all, killing is never an honour. And women have a right to drive. I’m from Saudi Arabia. I grew up there, born and raised 16 years, and as far as I can remember – and my family’s been there for 24 years – women still can’t drive. There was a time when women couldn’t even own a car. A friend of my sister’s fought for that.

TIM SEBASTIAN

So what point are you making?

AUDIENCE (F)

The point I’m making is that women, they do have the right, they should have rights. Unfortunately.. TIM SEBASTIAN

They do have them or they should have them?

AUDIENCE (F)

They should have them. Unfortunately there are some parts of the world, like in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, I noticed.. I’m more familiar with our country, because I grew up there.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay, all right. There’s a woman in front of you – she has a point to make.

AUDIENCE (F)

Hi, I’m from the USA. My question is for Iman or Rabab. There’s been a lot of media coverage about sexual harassment of women in Egypt and also the sexual violence against women during the Egyptian protests and rallies. Do you think this behaviour is indicative of what women will face in the future in Egypt? Do you think the SCAF and just the male public is not ready for women’s rights at this moment?

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay. Rabab el-Mahdi.

RABAB EL-MAHDI

Harassment has been a phenomenon that we have been living with for years. We’ve experienced the worst cases of harassment under the previous regime. However, because of the revolutions, now.. Personally speaking, I was sexually harassed as an activist. And when I wanted to file a case under Mubarak – that’s in 2005 – they actually closed the case; they wouldn’t allow me to go through with it. Now when women went through the virginity tests in March, which was enforced by the military, Samira Ibrahim put forward a case and actually won that case, and more women are coming to court. And the ruling was against the military, favouring that young woman in her early twenties against the military establishment. That’s the kind of freedoms that revolutions bring and allow you to deal with long-lived problems that we’ve had, including harassment.

TIM SEBASTIAN

Okay. Iman Bibar