Day 10: Clinton’s statements and the role of women in the Egyptian Revolution

Screenshot of the protests in Tahrir Square taken from Al Jazeera English

It is the tenth day of protests in Egypt and as I’m writing this, reports are flooding in about the deaths of at least five protesters in the last few hours. That makes five more reasons for the Egyptian population to stand up to Mubarak and his corrupt regime of government officials.

The critical situation in Egypt has escalated to one of massive proportions. There are no longer any ‘peaceful’ protests. The protesters have come under fire. Police officers and plain-clothes policemen have launched a concerted assault on tens of thousands of Egyptian protesters in various parts of the country, primarily in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Live footage shows police officers and their backers firing guns and petrol bombs into the air and into the crowds. Hundreds are injured but since these rogue police forces have barricaded entry points and connection-ways to Tahrir Square, ambulances are having a difficult time making it to the wounded. I’ve come across video footage showing protesters dragging injured bodies across a nearby bridge to safety. The streets glow with the blood of its people.

Earlier today, amidst the increase in violent attacks committed by pro-Mubarak forces against crowds of unarmed protesters, Hillary Clinton condemned the clashes, urged Mubarak’s government to hold accountable those committing the violence on the streets, and formally acknowledged international calls for Mubarak to step down. But why now?

Again, this is the tenth day of protests. Why has it taken ten days for the United States to formally condemn the government’s violence against unarmed protesters? Yes, Barack Obama and a variety of other U.S. government officials have referenced their disapproval of Mubarak’s actions to quell the protests, but until now, there hadn’t been any straightforward condemnation of Mubarak’s government and its multiple violations of civil and human rights against the people of Egypt.

I dare raise the question: What is Clinton condemning – the government’s vicious attacks against the protesters or the “clashes”? It is time the United States owned up to its promise to promote democracy and stand with the protesters in Egypt who have let the world know that they will not live under a corrupt and tyrannical dictatorship. Clinton should not be condemning the clashes. Rather, she should be condemning Mubarak, his internal police force, and all of those who back him in his quest to maintain unearned and unwanted authority over 85 million Egyptians.

But my criticism of Clinton’s statements are overshadowed by a more pressing issue that deals specifically with the people gathered in protest all throughout Egypt tonight. Circulating the internet is an album of images featuring women – young and old – participating in the protests against the government. They are truly inspirational photographs that serve to debunk the Western misconception that women are oppressed in Muslim-dominated or Arab states.

Admittedly, I find the images to be among the most representative snapshots of the revolution in Egypt. But I will also admit that I am disappointed and appalled by the apparent surprise in seeing women on the frontlines. It’s almost as if we’ve succumbed to the very misconceptions we criticize. Why is it unexpected that there are women and young ladies holding signs and voicing chants? Are they not moral? Are they not just? Are they not equal? Are they not Egyptian? Are they not conscious of the government’s infringement on their civil liberties?

This is more than just a movement. This is not a male-dominated social gathering nor is this a youth-led series of rallies. This is a people’s revolution. No matter how long it takes for the Obama administration to recognize their struggle and no matter how surprised we might be at seeing how diverse the crowds of protesters are, we must understand that this is the Egyptian population’s collective call for democracy and freedom of expression.

Sami Kishawi

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