Beyond Revolution: The Future of Women's Rights and Democracy in the Middle East-North Africa

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December 6, 2013


On October 22, 2013, WLP, in partnership with Cultural Conversations of the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies, held the event “Beyond Revolution: The Future of Women's Rights and Democracy in the Middle East-North Africa.” The event commenced with opening remarks by Azar Nafisi, Executive Director of Cultural Conversations, who drew attention to the targeting of women and women's rights in times of transition and upheaval, and women's role in exposing the weaknesses of oppressive regimes - their "privilege as canaries in the mine." Her comments were followed by  a screening of WLP's documentary, Because Our Cause Is Justand a panel discussion with experts from the region. The panel, which focused on region's changes since the start of the “Arab Spring” and the current dynamics shaping the region’s future -- especially in regards to women’s rights, included WLP Board Chair and Saudi Arabia Shura Council member Thoraya Obaid, WLP Board Member and former Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Yakin Ertürk, WLP Egypt/FWID Executive Director Enas el Shafie, WLP Lebanon/CRTD.A Executive Director Lina Abou Habib, and WLP Morocco/ADFM co-founder and Morocco Human Rights Council Member Rabéa Naciri. Event synopsis below videos. 


Beyond Revolution: The Future of Women's Rights and Democracy in MENA (Part 1) 


Beyond Revolution: The Future of Women's Rights and Democracy in MENA (Part 2) 

Thoraya Obaid opened the panel by stressing that the region’s younger generation is not accepting what previous generations accepted – a fact confirmed by their presence in the street. Enas el Shafie followed Obaid, highlighting that the majority of Egyptians backed Morsi’s removal from office, with millions of citizens having signed an appeal for him to step down. She stressed the role played by women in both phases of the revolution, and the fact that there has been a shift in Egyptians’ identity through this process: they will never accept a dictator again. Following el Shafie, Rabéa Naciri, explained why Morocco’s Islamist party – like Islamist parties across the region – cannot live up to the demands of the people. According to Naciri, the demands of those who took to the streets – dignity, development, and freedom of expression –  are not on the agenda of the Islamist parties. The Isalmists’ goal is to change society itself, according to their view of what is right and what national culture should be.  Furthermore, because their approach to complex issues is insufficient, they are failing on many levels of governance, Naciri said. The Lebanese perspective was shared by Lina Abou Habib, who highlighted the negative impact of the country’s confessional political system on women’s rights, in particular discriminatory family laws which vary according to religious court, and the religious quota system’s negative impact on the development of a women’s quota. Yakin Erturk discussed the universal thirst by the younger generation across the globe for freedom and expression, claiming this discredits Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” theory. At the same time, Erturk sees the “old world order” using violence to attempt to reassert its power. While predicting the ultimate failure of this effort to suppress populations seeking freedom, Erturk stated that there will likely be an extended period of turbulent transition.  In closing, while she cautioning against violence and the exclusion of religious political groups, which would only increase their sense of victimization, Erturk asserted that there is no such thing as a religious democracy (Christian democracy, Jewish democracy, Islamic Democracy or otherwise). For Erturk, it is a contradiction in terms, with religions not being “about democracy – they’re about dogma.”

The event was well-attended by practitioners, policy-makers, academics and students, who actively engaged in the discussion following the panel. Many expressed a need for further such discussions, with some requesting opportunities to screen the film at other local universities.

S:SSO to Sakai