Uprising in Egypt: What does it mean for Muslim Women?

Since protests first erupted on the streets of Cairo two weeks ago, the op-ed pages have been filled with commentary regarding the sudden and tremendous upheaval in Egypt, largely focusing on the role of the United States in the region over the past two decades.

Numerous commentators have offered arguments of support for the popular uprising in Egypt, but two female commentators featured in the Huffington Post, Nina Burleigh, and Anushay Hossain, stand apart in arguing this crisis proves U.S. policy and convention toward the region must change, especially in regards to the female population.

Nina Burleigh, in her column entitled Egypt and the Universal Rights of Women, argues that foreigners, especially those living in the United States, must be more aware of how dangerous the uprising is for Egyptian women. Citing several terrifying statistics, including the fact that 90% of Egyptian women are genitally mutilated, Burleigh argues “misogyny is a fundamental pillar on which radical Islam is based,” and the subjugation of females “is the driving force behind Islamist rage.” Burleigh urges American foreign policy makers to move beyond their focus on “the War on Terror” to address the real danger to the female population, arguing that Western leaders must reconsider the definition of the boundary between a cultural trait and a human rights violation, as it pertains to women.

Anushay Hossain also takes issue with the dominant Western perspectives on the Arab world. In her column entitled The Fight for Democracy: How Protests in Egypt and Iran shatter myths about Muslim Women, Hossain highlights the role of women at the forefront of the Green revolution in Iran last summer and the current uprising in Egypt. Hossain argues these efforts have worked to undermine the Western convention of Muslim women as “passive, voiceless, and apathetic when it comes to our country’s politics.” The past year has proven that “democracy and women’s rights go hand in hand. And no group understands that equation better than Muslim women.”

Both Burleigh and Hussain use their columns to argue for change in current U.S. policy toward the Middle East in regard to the female population. Although they offer very different perspectives, the crux of their respective arguments hinges on the same plea: attention to the female population living in the Arab world must be paid.

Thus far, President Obama’s administration has been attempting to treading lightly, straddling the precarious balance between acknowledging the rampant corruption of Mr. Mubarak’s regime without denouncing the American-backed leader, continuing to caution against dramatic and rapid change. Burleigh and Hussain make it clear just how much is at stake for Muslim women at this moment, an angle that U.S. foreign policy experts cannot afford to ignore.

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