I’m preparing for my brother’s wedding in Egypt next summer, and the biggest part of the preparation is acquiring a wardrobe that can effectively turn me into a troll. I’m buying slacks—not pants, but slacks—that drape on my legs in a style reminiscent of a pair of beige circus tents. I developed a new online shopping habit for anything oversized, hideous, and long sleeved. I even considered buying a headscarf. It sounds like a simple enough blend-in tactic for a Middle-Eastern wedding, but my family is Christian.
This is all to avoid sexual harassment in Egypt, as the country is now facing an epidemic of sexism, with depressing statistics like, “80 percent of women face some sort of sexual harassment.” Women wearing niqab can’t hide behind their veils as they’re also experiencing a increasing cases of sexual harrassment. This puts in perspective all those times I've sent my mother pictures of my new, conservative wardrobe additions with an accompanying, “Ugly enough?” Even if I send her snapshots resembling 90s skater fashion with jeans big enough for three people and those short-sleeved t-shirts that really look like they’re long sleeves, she responds with, “No, not enough.”
The scariest thing from the above-linked article is a quote from a boy who says, “"If the girls were dressed respectably, no one would touch them... It's the way girls dress that makes guys come on to them. The girls came wanting it—even women in niqab." Don’t these boys have mothers? Or sisters? Do they find it so impossible to imagine what women are thinking?
The dominance of religious groups in Egypt doesn’t help, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood. Last week, the New York Times reported on a premarital counseling class held in Cairo University, where a member of the MB (who is also a professor) preached to engaged couples how God created women as emotional creature who can’t make decisions. And, as the women are taught to take pleasure in obeying their husbands, they nod their heads and agree with the lecturer. No one argues. Nothing fazes them.
Besides providing clear guidelines, like a woman’s work must not take away from her home, the Muslim Brotherhood has been capitalizing on the country’s economic depression and provides mass weddings for couples who can’t afford to get married. As often happens, in times of trouble people turn to religion. There's a saying that has become widespread among the hopeless youth of my country: “God wants this for me now, but God will get me through this.” Problem is, that God they refer to doesn't seem that interested in helping women's rights. When the first female broadcaster freely wore hijab onscreen after years of a strict Mubarak dress code for the media, Muslim women rejoiced in liberation, but the rest of the world was left wondering, “Are you taking a step back?”
How do we fix this? Economic growth that will hopefully reverse the trend towards religious fanaticism? A separate protest from the women? In all the excitement over the change that the Arab Spring has brought, it's worth noting that many in that movement are as anti-women as the governments they opposed. Maybe we need a second Arab Spring for women—Arab summer, anyone?
Let's see if the news is better elsewhere in the Arab world:
- In the Middle East, one of the most popular ways to socialize is sit around in a hookah (or “arguileh”) café, smoke for hours, drink massive quantities of caffeine, and effectively wreck your heart rate and health. In Lebanon, where nearly half the men and a third of the women are regular smokers, the city issued a ban on indoor smoking on September 3 and effectively burned up most of the smoking cafes business. Then, the restaurant and café owners protested to keep their business alive and their customers, well, not so alive.
- What’s censored in the Middle East? Nudity, homosexuality, adultery, premarital sex (make that any type of sex, actually), and a bunch of other stuff. You can see the full list of what's banned in Lebanon on the brilliant Virtual Museum of Censorship website.
United Arab Emirates
- Abdullah Al-Aryani of the UAE won gold in the R6-50m Prone Rifle Shooting at the London 2012 Paralymics, which is just another indicator that while Americans own the most guns, they aren't the best at using them.
- The Saudis could be importing oil in 2030, or about the time hell freezes over.
More from Egypt
- There are lists for everything, from best-dressed celebrities to best restaurants to best-dressed cities to best sandwich restaurants. Urban Peek just added a list of top ten most hated cities. Cairo—the only Arab city making an appearance—comes in at number nine, because breathing in Cairo is the same burden on your lungs as smoking a pack a day. Maybe they should follow Lebanon's lead?
- A true entrepreneur will find an economic silver lining to depressing Islamist reform. As Egypt heads toward stricter religious regime, some are finding an opportunity to provide “Halal” (or “permissible”) tourism. Travel agencies, like Crescent Rating, can hook you up with Sharia-compliant hotels that only use Islamic finance guidelines, airlines that provide prayer, and women-only beaches. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy only “haram” vacations full of delicious and forbidden things like pork.
Positive Ending Note
- No Easy Day, the first-hand account of the Bin Ladin raid written by anonymous Navy SEAL “Mark Owen,” was released last week. The book also just took the shame out of best-selling lists: The preorders alone already outranked the Fifty Shades series on Amazon.com. I guess it's good news that people are more interested in terrorists getting shot in the head than they are in extremely trite BDSM scenarios.