The unseen factor: Egypt's women protestors

By Esther Saoub (gb/dpa/AFP)

Tens of thousands of the protesters demanding political reforms in Cairo as part of the popular uprising are women.

A lot of the news footage from Egypt's Tahrir Square in central Cairo showed men standing and shouting in the front rows of demonstrators, but the impression is misleading.

Tahrir Square has been full of women, talking, camped out in tents, wrapped in blankets, with children, singing, and chanting for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Some of these women were young, some were old. Some were wearing veils or headscarves; others were in tight jeans. They were doctors, bank tellers, housewives, mothers and grandmothers.

In Tahrir Square, volunteers - many of them women - erected portable toilets, brought food and water, set up makeshift kitchens, sound stages and mobile phone charging stations.

Central Cairo was a sprawling tent city, indicating that the protesters had no intention of leaving.

Entire families set up house on "Liberation Square" to demonstrate their support for Egypt's fledgling democracy movement. Again and again, they shouted their discontent with Mubarak to each other and the soldiers standing around them: "he should go; we're not going."

Nothing has changed yet

One young woman explained that she wasn't leaving because nothing had really changed yet.

"They switched a few faces, but the paragraphs in the constitution that we want reformed are still the way they were before. These could be changed quickly. But, so far, we've been promised nothing: no press freedom, no human rights. And until that is done, we don't trust anybody," she said.

In the midst of Cairo's tent city is a monument. It is a statue of Omar Makram, who led the resistance against Napoleon in Egypt. Two women are leaning on it: one is in her sixties; the other maybe half that. They have blankets with them, which they plan to distribute to the demonstrators.

Before coming to Tahrir Square they didn't know each other.

"Here, everybody is together, rich, poor - suddenly there is no difference," says the younger one, who has a job at a bank and came here right after work.

Mubarak brought us together

The older woman said that her daughter had been here with her family from the very beginning and that even the goon squads with their rocks, Molotov cocktails and guns could not budge the protesters.

At first, she stayed at home in front of the television, she said, but was worried sick about her daughter and her grandchildren, so she, too, went to the square.

"I saw how the people were standing together. That's the best thing Hosni Mubarak has ever done for us: he brought us together."

The young bank worker said she was hearing words she hadn't heard in a long time.

"People excuse themselves, if they bump into you. There's a huge throng here, but no man looks at you, or touches you; on the contrary, they make room for you," she said.

"This is the future," says the older woman. "A very good future for my children and grandchildren is beginning here on Tahrir Square."

"This is the real Egypt" is a comment frequently heard in Cairo these days. It's as if a new country has been born right in the middle of the city.

Protesters have called for another "million-man rally" on Friday. Many of them will be women.


Hear everyone around me saying that the same should happen in PNG....

Yes the same thing should happen in PNG. If the people want change and their power back they are going to have to take it back by force. Its the peoples RIGHT to take it back not the governments to give back. Its time for a revolution!!!

Papua New Guineans have no balls! Anjo had the balls to go out in public and made noise. No-one really listened to him and now is is silenced.

Women have indeed been a powerful presence in the recent arab upheavals. While on this topic, get a load of Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish's book "I Shall Not Hate". He writes that giving women a voice in the Israeli/Palestenian conflict is the only real basis for optimism. This is perhaps made even more poignant given the fact that his two daughters were killed by an Israeli shelling of his home.

In addition to my previous comment, you may wish to visit Mona Eltahawy's blog. Mona is an Egyptian blogger who has written and blogged consistently throughout the revolution.