Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hell Hath no Fury Like a Female Dissident

Since the relatively peaceful overthrow of President Mubarak by disaffected Egyptians last February, the military leadership has taken control of the political process there.  This despite a growing desire for increased civilian representation among Egyptians.  Parliamentary elections are on the horizon, but not nearly to the extent desired by the populace, and not soon enough.

Sisterly Solidarity
As such, demonstrators have taken the street once again, and true to form, the authoritarian leadership has cracked down on the unrest.  However, it appears they may have gone too far.  Once again, a single image may ignite the path for change.

Thousands of Egyptian women marched on Tahrir Square to protest the wanton abuse of a female protester last Saturday.  The woman who was the catalyst for this spontaneous uprising was by no means the only female assualted or humiliated -- but her story was the most visible.  As recounted by the WSJ
The march's catalyst was a single image, pulled on Saturday from a video, of an unidentified, half-naked and possibly unconscious woman being dragged through Tahrir Square by military police officers.
The officers had either stripped the woman of her abaya, a cloak worn by many conservative Muslim women, or had allowed it to slip off as they dragged her over the pavement.

At least one officer could clearly be seen stomping on the woman's bare stomach...
[T]he "woman with the blue bra" has seared herself into the Egyptian public consciousness.
International outrage has ensued, prompting Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to issue a harsh condemnation of the assaults.   And while a pro-forma apology was offered by the ruling junta, it hardly mollified the crowd.

This movement is especially significant in a region where traditional roles are embraced and harshly enforced.  The Saudi government quashed an attempt by women trying to gain the right to drive last May.  Their cause gained some traction in September when the octogenarian Saudi King approved voting and legislative rights for women.  Even so, there is still much to be done, and many more battles to fight.

Far from being unique to the Middle East, female dissidents, despite many societal constraints, have been catalysts for democratization and reform the world over.

Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest off and on for nearly 20 years after her party won a majority of seats in the Burmese Parliament.  Instead of quietly fading amidst oppression, she tirelessly worked to bring democracy to her fellow citizens.  Her efforts got her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, but Myanmar remains under the control of the ruling Military powers.

Peace through Quiet Strength
The Ladies in White are one of the leading voices of opposition in Cuba, starting their quiet, peaceful vigils after their husbands were imprisoned for voicing opposition views.  Their de facto leader, Laura Pollan, died last October following a scuffle with local authorities.  A non-political person until her husband was arrested, she stood up and spoke loudly against injustice when she could do no other.  

Disruption has consequences, and while the term is mostly applied to the world of economic innovation, it is no less significant when it comes to moral courage.  To speak out against oppression and for democracy still requires a rare form of moxie, and an entirely different breed of disruptive spirit.  Bold women are helping to lead the way. 

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