(2019) Sitting on the steps of the sidewalks, I was waiting for the bus to take me to the capital’s airport.I said to my friend: “I hope I still belong in Egypt.”
I had not visited Egypt in three years and had moved away seven years ago. I had become accustomed to losing and regaining contact with friends who still lived there, hearing and reading news about the accidents that mostly involved children and women. They seemed to give little to no change in the demeanor of my parents, who had chosen to go against the Arab Spring and support the (new) military rule.
Seven years ago, I left Egypt by choice. I had been applying to universities in the United States while finishing High School and participating in the revolution in Alexandria without my parents’ knowledge. Leaving Egypt, I knew I needed a break; a break from the harassment, from the entitlement of men and from the self-consciousness disguised under the banner of “What will people say?”
What will people say if we are too passionate, too loving, too powerful, too loud, too cool (or not cool enough), too invested, too demanding?
I guess people already say that.
(2013) I lived in the Midwest for four years, meeting only two other Egyptians; men. Both supporters of the revolution, but one verbalizing that “women’s issues are only second to the revolution’s demands.” A reminder once again of what I was told to believe about Egyptian women.
Who had been at the forefront of the movement on social media. Who had created checkpoints for other women to enter Tahrir Square. Who had birthed sons, fathers, husbands and colleagues’ and understood their deaths as a price to pay for change. We are only second to the revolution that we began.
Whose marriage to foreigners brings pride and civilization, while ours brings shame and dissociation. Who invent cuss words based on their proximity to Egyptian womanhood yet point their fingers of discipline as daggers into our mere existence. Who let their abuse by the government and police trickle down onto our bodies like large drops of rain in a summer thunderstorm. Their lives are not easy to live, as the scars we carry from lifting them up will tell.
(2017) I had understood it in Egypt, I had understood it in the United States, I had understood it in Finland. I was, I am a martyr of Egyptian development. I had paid my price to fight for Egypt from outside. In return, my body and genius were public property to be dissected and examined for who was to come after me, who was to extract my genius and show it off as personal property.
This article is not just about women’s liberation, but about the complexity of Egyptian women’s liberation. At one end, we fight the oppression pressed upon us by Egyptian men and their prophets in Egyptian women, and at the other we are taught that the only liberation we can oblige to comes from a handbook delivered to us by Western women. We resolve to a glimpse of original thought suppressed from every end.
We forget that Egyptian women have fought; in local markets and inside of households, in Cabaret’s and hair salons, in choosing to wear our veils in support of revolutions or choosing to take them off also in support of revolutions. In the pins we used to defend ourselves in public transportation, and in the activism we started leading up to the Arab Spring. It is in reminding myself while walking in the streets of Alexandria that an Egyptian women’s identity is not defined by the labels imposed by the Egyptian man or by the understanding of empowerment imposed by the Western woman.
Instead, we define ourselves through the unified understanding of collectivity, struggle and subaltern empowerment; through our discussions on marriage, body care and cooking, the very points the West tell us to reject. Through our abilities to make home of the spaces we enter, and our abilities to leave these same homes hollow when we have decided we have had enough.
Words by Yasmin Ibrahim
Yasmin is a recent Gender Studies Masters graduate who splits her time between reading, supporting the POC community, and engaging in grassroots activism. She currently resides in Finland.