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Egyptian women well represented in Tahrir protest

Feb. 6, 2011 10:02 A.M. (Updated: Feb. 7, 2011 1:48 P.M.)
By Ali Khalil

CAIRO (AFP) -- Veiled from head to toe, or dressed in trendy outfits, Egyptian women are out in force in the ongoing opposition rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square, countering stereotypes common in parts of the West.

"I've been coming here since Friday 28 [of January]," said novelist Sahar Al-Moggi, waving an Egyptian flag during a crowded rally at Tahrir Square -- the focal point of 12 days of protests demanding the departure of embattled President Hosni Mubarak.

Although demonstrations have turned into violent clashes between protesters barricaded in the square and partisans of Mubarak, who has been in office since 1981, Moggi said fear of violence could not stop her from joining the protest.

"I was scared [of violence]. But it was impossible that I would stay home," during Friday's mass rally dubbed by organizers as the "day of departure."

"We are taking part in the largest revolution in the history of Egypt," she said proudly.

While life in the capital is not as traditional as in rural Egypt, where women can be considered inferior and do not have the same access to education, the Islamic dress code is widely observed here and women do not have equal access to jobs.

"It is a must that men and women take part equally," said Marwa Ibrahim, a 25-year-old microbiology graduate.

Wearing an Islamic headscarf and jeans, the unemployed woman brandished an English-language banner reading: "People want Mubarak to leave."

"The role of a woman is just like a man's role. We feel each others' problems," she said.

"We don't want Mubarak. We want a regime change. We have always demanded changing the emergency law," she said, referring to the draconian security law that bans unauthorized demonstrations and allows detention without trial.

Many families have been turning up together to spend the day at the square.

On Friday, veiled women chanted anti-Mubarak slogans not far from a mixed group of men and women singing patriotic and folk songs.

Mother of three Inas said that "all parts of society, men and women, should be represented" at the rally.

The widow said she left her children with her mother so she could attend the rally. She stays in a low-budget hotel near the square at night, runs home in the morning to cook for the kids, and rushes back to square before the curfew.

And although sexual harassment has long been considered a major headache for women in Egypt, regardless of whether they observe the Islamic dress code or not, women noted the absence of such abuse at the rally despite the crowds.

The problem is so serious that the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights described it in 2008 as a "social cancer" and demanded government action to introduce legislation to curb it.

"Sexual harassment has been a large phenomenon, which I suffered personally in the past. Such a phenomenon does not exist here," said Marwa.

"I feel I am among my brothers here," said Inas.

On Saturday, women were steadfast in their determination to take part in the protest.

"Why did you kill my son... Why did you kill our youth?" chanted some 100 women, all in veils, as they marched around the square on Saturday morning, when many protesters were just waking up.
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