Doha Debates, The
This House Believes Women Will Be Worse Off AfterEpisode Guide »
Women's prospects in the Middle East are brighter now than before the Arab revolutions, a young audience at the award-winning Doha Debates voted last night. The motion "This House believes women will be worse off after the Arab revolutions" was resoundingly rejected 26% to 74% in a lively debate that repeatedly raised the question of whether women would face new restrictions from the rise of political Islam. In Tunisia, Islamists have already risen to power, while in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood has emerged as the strongest political force with women losing around 50 seats in the new parliament. For the motion was Tunisian women's rights campaigner Khadija Arfaoui and Iman Bibars, co-founder of the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women, Egypt's first microfinance organization. Both argued that harrassment and intimidation of women was on the rise in their countries, driven by a new, hardline, Islamist agenda. Debates about women wearing Muslim headscarves on television and protests at a Tunisian university over the full-face Muslim veil were warnings of a return to stricter Islamic values, Arfaoui said. "We want different things, that's ok, that's democracy," cried fiery Egyptian political activist and academic Rabab El Mahdi, saying at least people in a post-revolutionary world were free to debate and stand up for what they believed. Speaking against the motion, El Mahdi and Libyan academic Amal Jerary argued that women were the driving force of the Arab uprisings and that they would eventually have greater freedom through the democratic change they helped inspire. "Women made those revolutions which brought the so-called fundamentalists to power and they will be able to define and defend their rights and interests," El Mahdi said. Any improvement in women's rights would take time, Jerary conceded, saying that a year ago she would have been unable even to appear on television to debate the subject. "It's not going to be easy; I'm not saying it is going to happen overnight."