In all of these movements and initiatives women were key players and partici-pants, but never the focus of any of the rising initiatives, except for one short-livedinitiative named ‘Women for Democracy’- also known by its slogan (The Street isOurs) – which never transformed into a collective, broad movement.
By examin-ing this initiative, this paper tries to answer the question/paradox of: why is thereno women’s movement in Egypt, even at times of heightened mobilization, that is,a movement that caters to and is derived from the specific and multiple positionsof groups of women in their broader context?This question, however, warrants two interrelated caveats. The first is that thestarting point of this research is against gender universalism in all its differentversions – especially the liberal humanitarian project – as much as it is againstcultural relativism and essentialization, which characterizes a lot of studies onwomen of the global South. That is to say, it is against the false homogenization of a prototype ‘Arab’ or a ‘Muslim’ woman, and that it equally underscores theplurality of feminism(s) and gender-mobilization. The second is a necessarydistinction, between women-based movements and women’s movements, adistinction which has been conflated frequently to overcome some of the harmfuleffects of pseudo-hegemonic white-liberal feminism, that is to say, the work of many post-colonial and post-structuralist scholars, who rightly questioned andcritiqued the universal humanist project as it relates to feminisms of the Southpointing to elements of Euro-white centrism, condescension and patronization.
Such work was a necessary step to move beyond the hegemony of liberal-femi-nism as
feminism – the one way to women’s progress and betterment – and tolay bare the complexity and plurality of feminism(s) and feminist movements associo-historical constructs. However, later attempts to decolonize the feminism(s)of Third World women, and particularly women in the so-called Muslim world,have ended up promoting different shades of relativism, whereby any collectiveeffort in which women are key players would be characterized as a women’smovement. In contrast to this position, the starting point for this article and itsresearch question is based on an understanding that a women’s movement is notonly determined as such through the sex of its constituency and participants, butalso through its goals and declared consciousness. That is to not to say that everywomen’s movement has to be declared feminist – whatever the meaning given tothe word – but it also does not mean that any movement that is based on femalemembership is a women’s movement.This distinction and these caveats are foundational because in Egypt, as inmany countries of the global South (e.g. Morocco, Pakistan and Iran), there existdifferent forms of women’s organizations and a plurality of feminism(s), that is,individual Islamist feminists who attempt to re-read and construct women rightswithin an Islamist narrative (e.g. Heba Raouf in Egypt, Asma Lamrabet in
In this I use the broad definition of social movements, as coined by Tilly: ‘an organized, sustained, self-conscious challenge to existing authorities’; Charles Tilly, ‘Social Movements and National Politics’, inC. Bright and S. Harding (eds)
State-making and Social Movements: Essays in History and Theory
(AnnArbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1984), pp. 297–317, at 304.
Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate
(New Haven, CT: Yale Uni-versity Press, 1992); Lila Abu Lughod (ed.)
Remaking Women: Feminism and Modernity in the Middle East
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998); Lila Abu-Lughod, ‘Do Muslim Women Really needSaving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others’,
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Feminism WithoutBorders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity
(Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003).