Mona Eltahawy’s lightning bolt of a piece in Foreign Policy entitled “Why Do They Hate Us?” is staggering, heart-rending, depressing, and brutally truthful. She goes into candid detail on the treatment of women in the Middle East and why the world keeps looking the other direction.
Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either.
Not a single Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet’s rock bottom. Poor or rich, we all hate our women. Neighbors Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for instance, might be eons apart when it comes to GDP, but only four places separate them on the index, with the kingdom at 131 and Yemen coming in at 135 out of 135 countries. Morocco, often touted for its “progressive” family law (a 2005 report by Western “experts” called it “an example for Muslim countries aiming to integrate into modern society”), ranks 129; according to Morocco’s Ministry of Justice, 41,098 girls under age 18 were married there in 2010.
I don’t throw around “must-read” often, but this article certainly belongs in that category if anything does. Eltahawy herself was detained by Egyptian police during the revolution there last year, sexually assaulted and her arm and wrist broken. She takes that experience and others in her life and flays the entire culture of the Middle East bare. It’s painful to read at times but it needs to be read anyway, if only to realize how far we have to go as a planet.
And these problems are by no means new. They were there before we arrived with FREEDOM BOMBS and they’re still there now, and yet I can’t help seeing where the conservatives in this country want to go.