Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

Women’s Rights through the Printed Word: Extending Liberal Values to Ordinary Women

Tahani al-Gibali
Tahani al-Gibali

From my recent article on Egypt Source:

If liberal values are going to spread in Egyptian society, politics is not the answer. Women are.

“The normal woman has a job, goes to market, and raises her family, but she is not part of a political party,” said Youssef Habib, editor-in-chief of the newly launched women’s magazine Lu’lu’a, or Pearl.

“Most Egyptian women think they are simply a servant in the home,” he continued. “We say no, you are a partner, and you are very important.”

Part of the research for this article included attending a festive gala with prominent Egyptian female personalities, and included the stinging quip below:

The name Lu’lu’a is drawn in comparison with the Egyptian woman. Like the sand in the shell which endures great pressure, she emerges beautiful. This point was made by Fatima Naout, the social and political commentator and self-described godmother of the magazine who is a hero of the liberal cause.

Naout headlined a gala affair hosted by Lu’lu’a to celebrate the launch of the magazine’s first bimonthly edition. Honored guests included luminaries such as Tahani al-Gibali, Lamis Gaber, and Farida al-Shobashi, in addition to Samira Qilada, mother of a January 25 martyred daughter.

Angham al-Gammal, a female co-founder of the magazine with Habib and Latif, also insists the magazine is non-political and does not belong to any particular trend. However true in intention, as Naout spoke of Maryam, Qilada’s daughter, she betrayed the sympathies of almost all in attendance.

“The martyrs have already taken their reward. They have gone to the place of beauty, justice, truth, and light,” she said, “a place where there are no Muslim Brothers.”

But the magazine is also a social initiative with a strong, though controversial message:

Latif hopes to take the subjects of the magazine directly to marginalized communities in at least one meeting per month. As such, he described Lu’lu’a as an initiative more than a simple business venture. Their team recently held an awareness meeting with over 150 teachers and 500 students from four private girls-only high schools. They discussed the importance of self-esteem and education, and the dangers of sexual harassment and early marriage.

Early marriage, in fact, is the cover story for issue one, and received the condemnation of Gaber, whose journalistic commentary includes calling the hijab a devaluation of women.

“If you want to silence a people,” she addressed the gathering, “silence the women, marry them early, and a whole generation will emerge ignorant.”

But lest a conservative public receive this message as godless, the editors assert they have a religious vision as well:

The magazine also seeks to accord with Egyptian religiosity, unwilling to cede the discourse on women to Islamists.

“Our core vision,” said Latif, “is that God created the woman and her value comes from him.”

From the conclusion, holding up the magazine as an example of Egyptian liberals trying to touch the people, whereas political leaders are often seen as elite:

Indeed, the revolution changed Egypt, but more is needed to transform the people. If liberal politics falter here, liberal Egyptians must extend the message themselves – socially.

Please click here to read the whole article at Egypt Source.


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