Persecution, prosecution, and public shaming have led to a new wave of solidarity among women in Egypt. Could this kind of grassroots movement gain enough power to change the difficult situation on the ground?
Every morning, Mona Eltahawy posts the same message to her followers on Twitter: “Starting my day and sending love and solidarity to you all.”
Displaying solidarity with her predominantly female followers has become essential for the Egyptian-American social media activist, who is among the leading figures when it comes to supporting Arab women in their fight against emotional or sexual harassment, discrimination, public shaming, and persecution.
It also didn’t take Eltahawy long to side with the 30-year-old Egyptian teacher Aya Youssef, who found herself widely bashed on social media after a video clip went viral that shows her belly dancing on a Nile cruise.
As a consequence of this public shaming, Youssef lost her job as an Arabic teacher, and her husband filed for divorce.
However, the case also sparked an immense amount of support from women.
“I heard of Aya following the huge attack which left her isolated, jobless and divorced,” said Nihad Abu al-Qumsan, the head of the prominent Cairo-based Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights. “As a lawyer, I was able to help her on a legal level, and I offered her a job. But personally, I wanted to signal support and show her that she is not alone,” al-Qumsan told DW.
For al-Qumsan, it was equally important that Youssef know “she didn’t do anything wrong, she expressed joy and this is not a mistake.”
After ongoing support online and by al-Qumsan, Youssef’s case was eventually revisited by the authorities, and she was offered a position at a different school.
Another recent example of women supporting women — albeit without such a happy ending so far — followed the renewed conviction of the women’s rights defender Amal Fathy by Egypt’s Court of Cassation earlier this month.
Nongovernmental organizations, human rights groups and women such as Mona Eltahawy furiously took to the internet to condemn the decision.
In 2018, Fathy had criticised the Egyptian authorities for not protecting women from sexual harassment. In turn, she was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison for “spreading false news with the intention of harming the Egyptian state” and “public insult.”