#Egypt and the lessons of Venezuela…

Firstly, apologies for the recent scarce blog writing; the reasons for this are numerous and may continue for a while but I am trying to get back into regular blogging/Twitter/Facebook asap.

Pessimism is starting to creep in, with fears the Egyptian people will fail to usher in an era of democracy. The UK and the USA, the so-called ‘beacons of democracy’, have cowedly stepped back and called for a ‘peaceful resolve’ ignoring the wishes of millions of Egyptian people who have finally said, enough is enough.

There has been a lot written on the gender and religious solidarity involved within the Egyptian protests. Consider the following comment from The Atlantic (see here as The Atlantic’s quote is included in this analysis) regarding the iconic image of a woman protester kissing a solider on his cheek:

[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.

The public vs. private dichotomy is interesting and draws similar parallels to the work I have been doing for university on Venezuela and women’s organisational development. Venezuela’s Spanish colonised past had a strong impact upon Venezuela’s culture and society, especially through Catholicism. Women were, as in Egypt, associated with the private realm. Interestingly, however, women’s organisational development was paradoxically often stronger under dictatorships in comparison to times of democracy (such as the Trienio 1945-1948).

Women were not considered to be ‘traditional’ political actors and therefore were not persecuted in the same way that men were (not to say some women weren’t found out however). Once democracy occurred, women were often marginalised through party and state political apparatus, such as the party bureaus – undermining their political opportunities and structures.

In a dictatorship, men and women are both confined to the private space but women are better able to work within this space traditionally associated to them; whereas, in a democracy, public space becomes more accessible especially for men, making women’s private traditional association stronger. Furthermore, political mobilisation is often reduced to allow for a period of stability to crystallise democracy. On the positive side, as democracy began to consolidate within Venezuela, women’s organisation became more effective.

Now, whilst it would be wrong to make a direct comparison considering the distinct differences Egypt and Venezuela have, if a democracy does come into force through the powerful protests that we are witnessing within Egypt, then consideration of the gendered nature of political opportunities and structures will need to be paramount; especially if the Muslim Brotherhood get into power given that Islam can sometimes act as a repressive force against women (as Catholicism did and still does to Venezuelan women):

The Brotherhood’s beliefs are moderate when compared with many of the world’s more militant Muslim organizations. But it rejects the idea that a woman or a Christian could be president of a Muslim country, and would tilt the nation’s laws toward stricter Islamic codes.

Whilst women play important roles in counteracting repressive regimes and helping form democracy, the traditional associations of women and politics can undermine or enhance their political opportunities and structures.  This is not to ignore the sheer repressive nature of dictatorships, but to illustrate interesting patterns in Latin America and their potential for analysing the revolutionary situation within the Middle East (even though they are, I note, totally different contexts).


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