As this eventful year draws to a close, we are humbled by the heavy toll the Syrian people have paid and continue to pay for their freedom. As expected, President Bashar al-Assad has shown his willingness to sink the entire country in a bloodbath rather than admit his government’s failure to uphold a façade of peace and stability it was able to propagate for decades. Syrians face a bloody holiday season with no clear direction as to how their crisis will end or when. There is no telling who will be at the helm when it is all over, what shape will the country be in at that time, or who will be left alive of the civilian population to carry thenation through a healing process and back into prosperity.
The situation is not as tragic in Egypt; but it is extremely dangerous and very disappointing. Egyptians fought bravely for their freedom and they brought down a dictator who was once considered untouchable; only to see elections bring an Islamist to the presidency with a clear Muslim Brotherhood agenda that treats Egyptians as bad as, if not worse than, how Hosni Mubarak had treated his critics, opponents and foes at the height of his power. It is encouraging to see unrelenting Egyptians insist on change instead of settling for the crumbs given to them by President and the military that acts as the twin of the fallen regime it once served.
If the hope for 2012 was to set the track for the future, it failed miserably to do so. Instead, it highlighted the differences, widened the gaps and brought to the surface some of the dangers lurking ahead. It also spelled out a new reality for the Arab world: The road to freedom is long, painful, dangerous, and requires consistency and many sacrifices.
In the midst of this grim state of affairs, there were many shining moments this year that deserve to be singled out and applauded. They belong to Arab women who appeared early in the year to be the biggest losers of the Arab Awakening. They were robbed of their rightful role in the construction of their new nations in return of their equal fight to bring down tyrants and demand change. Throughout the year, we heard uplifting stories of women that did not give up their hope and fight for a better future. There are too many Arab women to fit in this article.
Despite all odds, these shining stars pushed forward. No backwardness could eclipse their determination:
Haifa Mansour is the first Saudi female filmmaker to direct an entire movie inside Saudi Arabia. It took her five years of hard work and many creative ways to direct the film, sometimes giving directions through a Walkie Talkie as she was not permitted to be on location. But her film won her worldwide acclaim and a major award at the Venice Film Festival. Coincidentally, her film Wadjda, is about a 10-year-old Riyadh girl who wants a bicycle. She sets her mind and works hard to achieve her dream, in a society that regards bicycles as degrading for women. Another icing on the cake is that the entire movie was shot in the Kingdom and it has two leading female Saudi actresses.
From Syria, two stories caught my attention this year.
One is about Houda al-Habash and her Islamic school for girls at Al-Zahra Mosque in Damascus are featured in the documentary The Light In Her Eyes. As a Muslim preacher and Quran teacher to young women in Syria, Houda helps women understand their rights within Islam and live the lives they choose instead of being totally dependent on interpretations (mostly faulty) by others. Houda and her family fled Syria earlier this year. According to several media interviews, they hope to return as soon as the crisis is over, but they continue to speak about the importance of empowering women and helping them attain their highest potential as a key to any successful society.
Rania Qaddoura is a Syrian doctor who was torn by the divisiveness within her own family and her environment. As an answer to the polarization she was exposed to but did not support, she produced a home video documenting her deepest feelings towards what is happening in her country, how it is affecting the people and how she hopes that her daughters will one day understand through her film the tough, yet not impossible, to stay neutral and support Syria rather than the Assad regime or the revolutionaries.
On Facebook a team of three young women from Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt launched the campaign of The Uprising of Women In The Arab World. Their effort turned into a revolution in its own rights when men and women from all walks of life and from across the Arab world joined in support of freedom for all. Particularly Arab women’s freedom from centuries of tribalism and patriarchal traditions that tie women down and limit their role in building viable and prosperous societies.
When the Egyptian young blogger, Alia Mahdi, posted naked photos of herself on her website in protest of the Islamist rule in Egypt, a large controversy ensued. While many supported Alia in her right to express her dismay and revolt through her naked body, others issued edicts for her death. The death threats were so serious that she fled Egypt and sought asylum in Sweden. Recently Alia posted new pictures of herself, holding the Egyptian flag in front of the Egyptian embassy in Stockholm. The words, “Sharia is not a constitution,“ painted in red on her naked body.
All of those cases are symbolic acts of defiance, revolutions in and by themselves, born in a moment of truth with oneself. When the weight of patriarchal rules suffocates a woman’s last breath, a rebellion begins. Nothing can stop it before the Arab female makes her point in her own way.
2012 was just the beginning of a challenging road ahead. One thing is certain, Arab women’s voices and their bodies shall rise from this point forward and the world had better pay attention.