Check out this great collection of images of Egyptian women involved in the uprising. It’s a really important alternative to the male-dominated images of the uprising emanating from mainstream media sources. Egyptian women are evidently taking a leading role in challenging the Mubarak regime.
This revolutionary activism on the part of women resonates with Frantz Fanon’s pioneering but problematic analysis of the transformation of gender roles during the Algerian revolution in “Algeria Unveiled” (in his book A Dying Colonialism). Fanon argued that the veil became an important symbol of resistant Algerian identity in the context of French colonial oppression. It also served as a strategic weapon since Algerian women could transport weapons and explosives to support the resistance movement underneath their veils. When necessary, women activists doffed the veil in order to appear “European” and move freely about the colonial precincts of cities such as Algiers. This experience, Fanon argued, catalyzed a radical mutation in gender roles that spelled the end of centuries of Algerian patriarchy.
As feminist analysts have since pointed out, Fanon failed to consider both the depth of patriarchy in Algeria and the limitation of the roles accorded women in revolutionary times. After the departure of the French, the institutional revolutionary party, the FLN, quickly erased women activists from historical memory as part of a reassertion of patriarchal normalcy.
It is obviously very important to watch Egypt to see the impact on gender roles of the current uprising, and to see whether Algerian history will be replayed forty years later. Circumstances may make the denouement of this revolution significantly different. Women in the Maghreb today (and in Egypt in particular) are far more educated and more engaged in the public world than they were during the revolutions of the last century. In addition, poverty has been feminized over the last twenty years or so in ways that are likely to continue to spur women to challenge the status quo, even after this revolutionary wave recedes.