World View – April

The New Non-Violence: How Young Egyptian Women Spawned Revolution Through Social Media

By Hisham Jabi

 

Photo By: Elisa Deljanin

 

As the researcher on youth empowerment for Management Systems International – a government contractor specializing in international development – I was asked to travel to Egypt and interview young Egyptians to better understand the circumstances of the revolution.

When I arrived in February, it was not to the Cairo I had known for so long.

The traffic was even slower than usual in the congested city of 20 million. People had mixed feelings of excitement and anxiety. Army personnel were everywhere. Children were selling flags and martyrs’ photos in Tahrir Square. The scent of freedom was everywhere.

How could the youth – who carried the stigma of being apathetic – remove such a brutal dictatorship by peaceful means? And how were young women involved?

Two perceptions exist of women in Arab societies: the first is that of women as behind-the-scenes and obedient. But the second is only commonly known to Arabs — that women hold the lead decision-making role in the household. The revolution bridged the two roles and perceptions.

Women were very much involved in the Egyptian Revolution by actively engaging in social media, which helped spawn the movement. The young women I interviewed said social media allowed them to link personal expression with street mobilization. They felt their comments on blogs, Facebook and Twitter mattered more than ever.

Social media also allowed young women to effectively participate in the revolution while still remaining in the household. “I am part of building the future of this country while sitting next to my parents, using the internet,” a young Alexandrian woman said to me.

And as the level of respect from adults to youth increased in Egypt, so did the respect for young women. For possibly the first time in history, adults began to see the youth – who mobilized the revolution – as a more powerful group in society, young women included. The change in perception allowed for a level of freedom for young women to go into the streets and align with men protesting. This included an acceptance of women supporting protestors from the controversial political party, the Muslim Brotherhood–an interaction which is not allowed by Islam’s religious Sharia law.

Not only did the Egyptian Revolution help to redefine the contradicting roles of women in Egypt and present young women as major players in launching the reform and protecting its achievements; but young women are also expected to play a major role in bridging the gap in the aftermath of the revolution.

Young men know that exceeding challenges await them in moving political reform forward, creating a justice system and fostering fair and free elections. The ones I spoke with said they now feel the need for their female peers to help protect the revolution and continue the process through positive reforms. It is likely that such recognition from their male counterparts will continue to galvanize young Egyptian women in the weeks and months to come.

“Women know how to march,” a young Egyptian woman told me. “We also have an agenda, and we can play a major role in the coming elections.”

[learn_more caption="About The Author" state="open"] Hisham Jabi was raised in Palestine and is the Senior Associate at USAID-Contractor Management Systems International. He has led public and private initiatives in international development in the Middle East and the United States since 1993 in the areas of youth development, entrepreneurship and informational technology.[/learn_more]

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