- By Suzanne MerkelsonSuzanne Merkelson is an editorial assistant at Foreign Policy.
The photos coming from Cairo and other parts of Egypt have many around the world glued to their computers, compulsively clicking through slideshows of the protests and brushing up on recent Egyptian history. On social networking sites and in the comments of various news sites (including this one), newbie Egyptologists have been asking: Where are Egypt’s women?
Seeking to answer that question and helping to dismiss the idea that this is a boys-only revolution, a new Facebook album is making its way around the internet. Titled "Women of Egypt," it depicts women in both hijabs and jeans, with mouths open defiantly voicing protest. The Facebook user who created the album and compiled the photos said that the album is an "homage to all those women out there fighting, and whose voices and faces are hidden from the public eye!"
Perhaps one of the most provocative and moving of this photos is what’s being referred to as "The Kiss Photo" which depicts an older Egyptian woman kissing a soldier on the cheek. According to The Atlantic‘s Garance Franke-Ruta, this is "truly exceptional."
[The photo] was a powerful statement of national unity.
But it was also far more radical than that in a country in which men and women are barely tolerated holding hands in public in the most liberal precincts of comparatively Christian Alexandria, and where public displays of affections are frowned upon and likely to be met with cutting glances and vicious neighborhood gossip elsewhere…
In short, when it comes to women in public life, Egypt can be pretty conservative. It’s not Saudi Arabia or Iran, but it’s also not Lebanon."
Franke-Ruta noted that 90 percent of Egyptian women wear the hijab and even with a quota, only 1.8 percent of the seats in the People’s Assembly are held by women.
In fact, many experts are saying that the number of women taking place in the anti-government protests is "unprecendented." Slate rounds up various estimates of women in the crowds:
Ghada Shahbandar, an activist with the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, estimated the crowd downtown to be 20 percent female. Other estimates were as high as 50 percent. In past protests, the female presence would rarely rise to 10 percent. Protests have a reputation for being dangerous for Egyptian women, whose common struggle as objects of sexual harassment is exacerbated in the congested, male-dominated crowd.