Women's Day march in Tahrir Square; male counterdemonstrators shout, go home!

Story here.

It wasn’t a big demo anyway, only 200 showed up, but the reaction is telling. Are the Arab world’s women going to get any status-improvement out of democracy? It’s not essentially linked to gender equality, you know; look at ancient Athens, or America before the 19th Amendment. And this unleashing the power of the people also unleashes the power of their cultural prejudices. Women in Iraq were comparatively better off under Saddam (so long as they avoided the notice of his sons).

It’s hard to say what the hell is going to happen, honestly. CNN this evening had a young Egyptian woman who had taken part in the women’s rally, and she said that while no one was really expecting a massive sea change in women’s status in Egypt with the revolution, she was disappointed at how many men were apparently willing to pray beside women while being stared down by pro-Mubarak enforcers but had a problem with the show of solidarity the same women tried to make today. She did say, however, that Cairo is basically in chaos right now (there were multiple protests on the day of the women’s march by various groups), and that there are still a lot of thugs causing trouble for anyone who’s marching out on the street.

The big question is who will take over the government once everything settles down. Some people are worried that fundamentalist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood will step in, which probably wouldn’t be all that great for women in the new regime. OTOH, one thing I keep thinking about is whether Egypt can really afford to choose a government that alienates the sympathy of a lot of Westerners due to cultural issues. I’d be willing to bet that Egypt is the most visited member of the Arab world for Westerners, and I believe I heard that the Revolution has already cost the country millions if not billions of dollars in lost tourism income. That represents a huge financial blow for a country that already had so many struggling people. And unlike several other Arab League members, Egypt doesn’t have too many other resources to fall back on (they don’t have oil, for example). Would the future government risk leaning too conservative and potentially putting off potential visitors?

Strictly concerning women, though, I think they’ve got a long way to go regardless of who takes over. Entrenched cultural memes die hard. If they do want real change, however, they can’t stop at just one protest.

Yes, no doubt it, women’s rights will probably take a hit after Egypt transitions its government. Without knowing much about the situation in the other countries that have rebelled against their governments, my guess is that women’s rights would take a hit in these places too. It will take a strong stable democracy with respect for individual liberty that will eventually solve these problems. What else is there to do or say? These are their homes and now that they have gained some control over their lives, their society will reflect their culture.

There is a lot of this worrying over the culture that will support this nascent democracy. Do you want them to have it or not? Do you have faith in democracy/individual liberty or not? Do you want somebody to take over and have an egalitarian dictatorship until they are so brainwashed that they accept women’s rights without question?

Also of interest: Copts, Muslims clash in Cairo; one dead. (The Christians were protesting the torching of a church.)