“Arab Spring”: What Should Palestinian and All Arab Women Demand?
Against the background of the Arab Spring, replete with visuals on the TV screens of popular systematic civil resistance, of militarized confrontation activated by the dictator and deployed by his state agencies, of pain and brutality of murdering unarmed civilians, the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC) embarks on the year of 2012 with renewed energy and faith that popular will for liberation from the shackles of dictatorships and colonialism will eventually preside, no matter how long it takes. The Arab Spring, along with the countless movements prior to it, has shown the heavy sacrifice needed for a people to win back their right to live with dignity. Willingness of the people to risk their lives for liberation demonstrates their unwavering belief that the death of the spirit of a nation, indeed, is the worst form of death.
Throughout the many decades since the creation of the state of Israel, Palestinian people have sacrificed much for our freedom from the shackles of occupation and colonialism. We are still very far from achieving that goal and the morale of the people has reached one of its lowest points. Seeing the Tunisian, Egyptian, Yemeni, Bahraini, Libyan, and Syrian people collectively, tenaciously, and courageously demonstrating their collective resistance to despots and dictatorial regimes while demanding freedom, democracy, and social justice (even in the face of unyielding violent state force) has enabled Palestinian people to regain our hope. The Arab Spring has shown us that, despite, and perhaps because of, the heavy sacrifices including the loss of countless lives, the struggle releases the energy of millions of others to seek liberation from their respective shackles of enslavement and colonization of the land, body, and soul. The Arab Spring has set a contemporary standard for a global movement for social justice.
The popular revolts in the Arab countries have enabled a clearer understanding of the impacts of global economic policy known as neoliberalism that has perpetuated the exploitation of the global South by the North and within the South by the dictators and their despotic regimes. They have also highlighted the mammoth forces that create and perpetuate complex inequalities and forms of marginalization within Southern countries. They have shown that liberation of individuals through legislative and policy reforms alone are not sufficient when there is class stratification and discrimination rooted in national, ethnic, and religious affiliations. Violent state responses to calls for liberation have prompted the people to fully recognize the South’s high level of militarization, which allows regimes to quell dissent, enable unhindered exploitation of Southern resources (most especially oil in the Arab region) and to support US and other Western strategic interests, that is, to maintain their economic and political dominance.
Alongside the importance of this as a world-changing event, the Arab people’s revolutions have shattered many enduring stereotypes about Arab women perpetuated by Islamophobia and Western popular media. Arab women—all assumed to be Muslim, and portrayed and perceived only as victims of deeply patriarchal cultures—were at the forefront of the democracy movement in their respective countries. This made history and marked a crucial milestone in the global women’s movement, setting a standard for women’s activism for freedom and justice. Just as it seemed that women’s activism was losing momentum, especially in the West, and increasingly becoming an activity within isolated elitist academic circles, the Arab women came out in full force, flexing the power of women’s influence in shaping mass movements. Their unshakable presence made visible the fact that patriarchy perpetuates discrimination and social injustice against women and is a major root cause for most forms of violence against women.
It remains to be seen, however, how women will actually fare after the revolutionary dust has settled, as we have learned from other liberation struggles. Predictably, feminism has been disparaged as Western residue of the old regime. Ignoring the role women played as leaders and organisers of the revolutions, their male counterparts in the democracy movement have bargained away, marginalized, or dismissed women’s rights on the grounds that they are too controversial, too divisive, and culturally or religiously inappropriate to include in rebuilding the state. For example, in post-revolutionary Egypt, there is the push for a religious state. In Libya, despite rhetoric of advancing women’s rights, the National Transitional Council is overwhelmingly male-dominated.
Through decades of experience, we Palestinian people know deeply that the struggles for democracy exact told and untold costs, that the transition from dictatorship to democracy brings tremendous turbulence, and that once again women will be sacrificed. But the Arab Spring has proven one thing: no matter what religious or national identities we uphold, there is a deep human yearning for freedom and social justice that no power can extinguish once unleashed. The yearning of Arab women for liberation is no less strong or less enduring. We agree with many throughout the Arab region and in conflict zones around the world: No Women, No Peace!