Iranian women recognized that they wanted freedom for a better life: Writer, Mona Eltahawy tells The Oslo Times
Freelance Journalist and Egyptian-American feminist writer and commentator Mona Eltahawy, has spoken publicly at universities, panel discussions and interfaith gatherings on human rights and reform in the Islamic world, feminism and Egyptian Muslim–Christian relations in addition to her other concerns.
Eltahawy who was granted American citizenship in 2011, has also written essays and op-eds for worldwide publications on Egypt and the Islamic world, including women’s issues and Muslim political and social affairs. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, and the Miami Herald among others. She has also been a guest analyst on U.S. radio and television news shows.
During her visit to Norway for the World Women’s Conference, Eltahawy spoke to The Oslo Times International News Network about her work, experiences, the Egyptian Regime and a whole lot more.
The Excerpts below give us an insight into the interesting conversation between The Editor-in-Chief of The Oslo Times, Hatef Mokhtar and freelance journo Eltahawy:
Please tell us something about yourself?
I am an Egyptian American a feminist writer, who focuses mostly on Arab and Islamic issues along with global feminism and racism.
What do you mean by racism? Have your experienced it in your own life?
I see racism in Egypt and in the United States as well. Whenever I see racism, I speak out, along with encouraging other people also to speak out. For example, I was arrested in the New York subway in 2012, when I sprayed grey pink paint over the head of model in an racist advertising campaign that had went out the on the walls of ten subway stations. The police arrested me and I was charged and had to stand trial. It took two years
What does media freedom mean to you?
The most exciting part about media freedom for me happened on social media. I have seen how people in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and in the US have used it to create a space for freedom. I mention these three countries for different reasons. In Egypt a lot of young people began to use Facebook and Twitter, many years before the revolution, to create in that virtual space a kind of freedom they did not have in the real world. When they created that virtual state of freedom they were able to connect with other like-minded individual, they met each other in the real world and realized that they were not alone. In Saudi Arabia, this is especially important because it is even more repressive in Saudi Arabia than in Egypt. Saudi Arabia is a country that segregates between men and women and there is no mixing at all, but on social media- they can meet and mix.
On social media they began to meet men, for example that support women to drive. They began to see alliances created that were not allowed in the real world. In United States social media have been used to amplify fight against racism for Black Americans, who do not have access to big main-stream media. We don’t have access to big newspapers or big TV stations.
What do human rights mean to you?
Human rights for me means the right to be free, safe, and the right to live in dignity. Let me explain it to you with an example of a room. Human rights for me is a room with a ceiling that is so high, that it allows maximum number of people to stand underneath and it allows maximum amount of rights such that everybody feels welcomed and everybody feels that they live a dignified life. Unfortunately, in many countries they have to conform to certain religious and cultural standards in order to survive under the very low ceiling. The high we push the ceiling the more people can stand underneath it. That is how I explain human rights.
What is your opinion about General Morsi or el-Sisi?
General el-Sisi for me is the fascist dictator of Egypt. He is a military man who was the head of intelligence during our revolution, who belonged to the military junta rather than the Egyptian people during our revolution, who was in charge of junta when women were sexually violated. He was in charge of Egypt when around 1000 members of the Muslim brotherhood were massacred to clear the Rabaa Square. For me, General al-Sisi should not be the President of Egypt, because I believe in civilian rule in Egypt. I don’t believe that the military should rule Egypt.
What do you mean by Christian brotherhood?
I use the term Christian brotherhood to describe the Christian fundamentalist in United States. They are similar to the Muslim fundamentalist that we fight in the Middle East and North Africa. I use specifically the word Christian brotherhood because I want to make that connection. As a woman that believes in gender equality and in sexual freedom, our enemies are not those who want to secure religion but the fundamentalist religious men.
What do you mean by free from religion?
I said we must be free from the triangle of power of oppressors, which includes the regime, street and the home. These three are used as weapon to control women. So to free ourselves from this triangle we must say we will no longer allow you to use culture, religion and the regime against us.
What does love mean to you?
Love means freedom and justice.
Can you tell me about your books?
My first book is coming out in April. It is a research-based book that looks at my theory of what we need to have a successful revolution. My theory is that we should began a political revolution for a positive regime, but the regime in the Middle East and North Africa are oppressive. We must have social and sexual revolution for the political revolution to succeed. The name of the book is Headscarf and Hymen: Why the Middle East Needs Sexual Revolution?
What is your message for dictators around the world?
My message to dictators around the world is that people have instincts to be free and they will always fight to be free and to live a dignified life. I sincerely believe that the revolution that began in Tunisia in 2010 is changing the world. It has inspired the Occupy Movement and other protests around the world. People around the world ask themselves: does my government represent me? And if my government does not represent me, what should I do about it? People in the Middle East and Africa are risking their lives to have a government that represents them and to live a free and dignified life.
Your speech talked about Prophet Muhamud. Don’t you think that some Muslims were hurt by your speech?
No, I wish Muslims would be more hurt by the girls who die because they are married at the age of 8. Because clerics use the example of prophet Muhammad and state that he married Isa when she was 6 or 9 to justify child marriage. These girls die from rape on their wedding night and these girls die when they get pregnant. This should hurt them much more because our prophet did not say to do this to girls, but gave the message of mercy and love.
You said ‘our prophet’ do you believe in Muhammad?
I identify myself as a Muslim. If you look at all my writings, everywhere I write as Muslim. When I give my lecture, I talk to women out their specially Muslims and I talk to them as a fellow Muslim women because I want them to know that I understand what their background is like. I am a Muslim women, I have been through this struggle. Where I am now in my identification of Muslims is very different than where I was 25 years ago. So, my journey has been a very long one. But it is important for me to continue identifying myself as a Muslim because I want young Muslims women out there to see all the Muslim women who have gone through the same struggle that they have or are going.
What do you think about this Women World Conference?
It is fantastic. Dia Khan has done a wonderful, and incredible job in bringing together women from different backgrounds but all of whom have been fighting to be free, to raise their decedent voice rise up against attempts to marginalize them and against attempts to silence them. Their actions serve the message that we rebellious women of the world will not be silent.
So you don’t want to be silent.
Why are you so fond of it?
Why should I not be? I have fought hard, I am 47 years of old, I have earned every single one of those years and I have worked very hard. And I have paid the price.
Which kind of price have you paid?
Of many kinds, but the one that is the most immediate is the one that I mentioned on the stage about how they broke my arms and sexually assaulted me. I paid a price to be free. And I will defend it well. This price while I compare to other people is different but it is not a competition and flattering. I am proud of myself because I have been working very hard for many years for the principles that I believe in, principles that travel with me.
If I give you three things, which one would you select: Popularity, money or end imprisonment?
End all imprisonment, of course. Money comes and goes, popularity also comes and goes but I want freedom, I want free people.
By fighting the fight for freedom. By saying that I want the ceiling to be up there, so that as many people could stand beneath it.
What do you think about freedom of expression in Norway?
To be honest I do not follow the Norwegian context very closely. I cannot tell you in specific details. But when I speak about European countries specially Scandinavian countries and how far they have come along, and how progressive they are, I always remind people for going to the Edvard Munch museum, which I have visited. His paintings of the last century describe the social problem of Norway. Those paintings reminds that Norwegians have gone through their own revolution, fought their fight to make the country that they have today. They are still the community in Samiland whose language was not allowed and repressed and who struggled for their own communal rights. So a country like Norway as progressive as it is today was not created in this way, it had to fight to become progressive. I always say this to remind people that what we are going through now, is not unique, but is a necessary fight. Basically we continue the struggle, some country began the fight long time ago and they are more progressive now and some are fighting the fight now. If Norwegians are enjoying the freedom of expression now, it is because of the fight, their ancestors put some three or four generations ago and that we are fighting in the Middle East today. So, support our fight.
What do you think about women’s right in these particular countries— Iran, Afghanistan and India?
I think the women’s rights movement in Iran is incredible because they have been fighting for 34 years, against religious fascism. Should I consider the fundamentalist fascist to the military fascist. I think Iranian women have been fighting for a very long time they took part in the Iranian revolution, under the promise that they will be free that their rights will be guaranteed. What ended up happening was when Ayotolla came to power they reversed their rights. They reversed their freedom and imposed dress code on them that did not existed earlier in Iran. Iranian women recognized that they wanted freedom for a better life. When I hear about their campaigns like collecting millions of signature I admire the courage of these activist, some of which I have met.
You forget to comment about Afghanistan and India. In India one woman is raped in every 30 seconds despite being a huge democracy that ha freedom of expression. Human rights activists are quite about India, why?
You are right about India. I know many Indian feminists who are fighting very hard just like the Iranian feminists. Sexual violence exists everywhere. There is no country on earth that has ended sexual violence. It can be ended or confronted, when more and more women will begin to speak out. We have heard about horrific cases in India for the past few years, and how more and more Indian women are fighting to hold their authorities and leadership accountable, to hold men accountable and to make sure that law enforcement authorities respect women, allow them to report sexual violence and assist in delivering justice to the victims.
In Afghanistan there are many examples of very courageous women fighting in a very difficult circumstances for their rights. They all have my solidarity and support and I am very concerned about their conditions.
Could you tell me something about The Oslo Times?
I have enjoyed extremely speaking with you. I have found your questions very insightful and very honest. I appreciate that you take time to speak with your audience. Best and warmest wishes from m self as an Egyptian and as an American.
All Rights Reserved with The Oslo Times