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Egypt and other Arab democracies will not survive without including more women

Despite their sacrifices during the Arab revolutions, Arab women are glaringly absent from the new parliaments, constitutional drafting committees, and cabinet appointments – especially in Egypt. But democracy, like revolution, is unsustainable in the Middle East without the inclusion of women.

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Women protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi chant slogans during a demonstration in Cairo, Dec. 11, four days ahead a nationwide referendum on a contentious draft constitution. Op-ed contributor Sahar F. Aziz says 'Egyptians had a revolution in order to create a better economic future for their children based on a democratic system of governance. This cannot be realized as long as women are barred from the decisionmaking table.'

Nasser Nasser/AP

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The Arab revolutions, and their aftermath, are a testament to the human spirit. In a matter of months, decades of corruption and injustice were confronted by the raw strength of women and men unified against a common dictator. Facing death, torture, and sexual assault at the hands of state police and government-hired thugs, people across the greater Middle East sought to shed the yoke of tyranny, as they demanded one simple human right – dignity.

But once the revolutions ended and the transitional phase began, women were expected to return to their homes. Men continued to monopolize power feeling little obligation to include the women who marched for freedom alongside them. For many women, however, the revolution was not only about removing a lone dictator but also uprooting an entire system of authoritarianism stretching from the presidential palace to the classroom and into the bedroom. Thus, Arab women of diverse political viewpoints are now focusing on ensuring the revolutions were not merely an exception to the norm of patriarchy that prevails in many Middle Eastern countries.

The revolutions reshaped gender roles in the public square. Indeed, in Egypt alone, 20 to 50 percent of the daily protesters were women, and as a consequence they, too, were beaten, jailed, and tried before military tribunals. Women protesters were also humiliated with virginity tests to warn others that they faced the same fate should they leave their homes to join the revolution. Despite their sacrifices, Arab women’s glaring absence from the new parliaments, constitutional drafting committees, and cabinet appointments does not bode well for what lies ahead for them. 

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