Column: The view from Tahrir Square
If you go to Tahrir Square in Cairo today, it’s as if the revolution never stopped.
The square itself is a plot of dust and dirt surrounded by highway. Graffiti depicting elaborate images from the revolution coats the sides of buildings. People must still climb over massive stone roadblocks to get from one side to the other.
Every Friday, there are still protests.
Tahrir gained fame as the location for major protests during the Arab Spring. Similar protests in Tunisia, Libya and Yemen resulted in the overthrow of government power.
It forced changes in the government here in Cairo, but for one group of people, the view now is much the same as before.
Women in the Middle East are some of the most misunderstood people in the world. In the West, we see them as exotic and suppressed products of abuse, forced to do as men say.
There’s more myth to this than truth, at least in Egypt.
Women here, for the most part, do not cover themselves because a man tells them to.
They cover their hair or body out of respect for themselves and their religion as a personal choice.
Some of them even bedazzle their burqas with rhinestones so personality still comes through, but with modesty.
Several Egyptian women I’ve spoken to believe Western women are the oppressed ones. They want to ask us to look at how we have to dress to please men in tight dresses, high heels and makeup.
Many Westerners also talk about how the Egyptian government suppresses women. It is made up primarily of a conservative Islamic group, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Women here don’t deny there is some truth to this, but I’ll never forget what one Egyptian woman said to me when I asked her about it.
“What about that man, Akin?” she asked, referring to the recent scandal with U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo. She laughed and said, “Americans keep going on about how women have no rights here, but look at who you put in office.”
She’s not saying women in Cairo are treated equally, because they aren’t. She’s just asking, don’t we have similar issues in America?
It has been a difficult experience for us female international students. We typically can’t walk places alone, particularly at night. Street harassment is a daily occurrence.
I’ve been catcalled by men, brushed against by one man and hissed at by police officers.
Fortunately, few of us have yet to experience the pinching or groping most Egyptian women face during their lives here.
It’s so frustrating because there’s no place to report it. Where would you go? What would they do?
All you can rely on is for passersby to come to your aid. They almost always will, both men and women.
I spoke recently with a student at my university who participated heavily in the mass protests in Tahrir. She is an Egyptian journalism student.
During the Arab Spring, she was hit with tear gas and shot at. Every day she took the bus to Tahrir, skipping classes and sleeping in the square on weekends.
I asked her what kind of Egypt she wants to see. She told me she wants an Egypt where she can walk down the street without fear.
Where she can travel alone. Where she can work in television while wearing a hijab. She has been denied internships before because of her headscarf.
She wants equality, and she told me she was willing to die for that idea.
Freedom for others would be worth the sacrifice.
She’s a Middle Eastern woman, a conservative Muslim, and she’s one of the strongest women to whom I’ve ever spoken.
The women here aren’t weak. They’re not submissive, even when society wants them to be. They’re tough, and they’re strong, because they have to be.
All of us Western women do them and our gender a disservice to overlook that.
Looking back: Egypt's revolution
Although Egypt’s revolution technically lasted only 18 days, major events continue to shape politics and society from 2011-12.
Protests against President Hosni Mubarak begin in Cairo and other Egyptian cities for the “Day of Revolt.”
The “Friday of Rage” protests take place in Tahrir Square despite government censorship of social media websites used to plan the rally.
Mubarak resigns. Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and the Egyptian army serve as an interim government,
Egypt’s constitution is suspended, and parliament is dissolved.
A new constitution is approved with 77.2 percent of Egyptians in favor.
The political party formed by the Muslim Brotherhood is legalized.
More than 1,000 people are injured after a conflict between protestors and police in Tahrir Square.
Over 100,000 Islamists gather in Tahrir Square.
Mubarak, his two sons, former interior minister Habib al-Adly and six police commanders go on trial for the deaths of protestors during the 18-day revolt.
Islamist parties win three-quarters of parliamentary seats in Egypt’s first election since the uprisings.
Muhammad Saad al-Katatni of the Muslim Brotherhood is elected by parliament as its speaker during the first People’s Assembly.
Egypt has its first free presidential elections.
Mubarak and al-Adly are sentenced to life in prison for allowing the killing of protestors. More than 850 people died during the revolution.
Mubarak is moved from a prison hospital and said to be in a coma.
Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood is declared the winner of the presidential election.
Morsi swears in members of his first cabinet.
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