By: Molly Lomenzo
This past summer, I had the privilege of being a conference organizer for Women2Women, an incredible international young women’s leadership conference through the Boston-based non-profit Empower Peace. Most of the girls are from the Middle East and North Africa. We were supposed to have about 6 girls from Egypt, but the closing of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo prohibited a few from coming. We ended up having 3 incredible participants and 2 interns with us for the week. What I found so interesting was that each of them had different experiences and opinions about the political unrest in their country. During the week of the conference, the Egyptian military enforced a strict curfew– 7:00 pm. Some of the girls had to change their flights so they would not be arriving or driving around after that time. Others spoke frankly and knowledgeably about Morsi, and the confusion about the U.S and Israel’s alternating support and denouncement of Egypt’s present actions. The point is, the girls with whom I became so close and who represented their country with such beauty, grace, and courage, are all home safely. But I worry about them. I worry that their dedication to women’s rights and empowerment will put them or their families in danger. I worry that all the hope and strength and resolve we all gained during the conference will fade in the face of armies, protests, violence, and corruption. I always worry.
For those who are interested, here are the basics on the conflict in Egypt:
Arab Spring and Mubarak: Unrest began in 2010 over the interminable reign of President Hosni Mubarak. President since 1981, he was finally ousted in 2011 amidst formidable pressure from the Egyptian masses and a revolution demanding new leadership. He was imprisoned and put on trial for the murders of protestors as well as for corruption.
Morsi: As part of the Arab Spring that swept through Middle Eastern and North African countries beginning in 2010, Egypt trembled with change. Mohammad Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, took power after Mubarak fell. In July 2013, he also was ousted by the head of the Army, el-Sisi, in opposition to the Islamist agenda of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies. The Constitution is currently suspended, as many Egyptians protest the ousting of Morsi. Great concern has arisen at the thousands of civilians who died in August in Cairo and Alexandria, supposedly at the hands of the military.
Muslim Brotherhood and Human Rights Concerns: The Muslim Brotherhood is a group whose primary purpose would be to see Egypt become an Islamist state. This has caused an outcry as many Egyptians, especially young people, feel that some interpretations of Islam are keeping them from becoming a democracy, from reaching their potential, and from achieving human rights.
Amnesty International is particularly concerned about the sexual violence that is running rampant and largely ignored, while the world watches, enthralled and repulsed, by the political conflict. Tahrir Square has been a locus for rape, where their are too many people and too much chaos for a girl or women in trouble to be heard or helped. Other human rights concerns include censorship and free speech, as AI believes fiercely in the right of all citizens of the world to have a say in their country’s future and to not be punished for the opinions and affiliations.
EDUCATE YOURSELF. that is the only way we can change things.