Feminist Activism in MENA: Iraq and Egypt in Focus

By Nadje Sadig Al-Ali
Submitted to Session P4070 (Democratic, Left, Feminist and Liberal Activism in the MENA, 2015 Annual Meeting
All Middle East;
Gender/Women's Studies;
The proposed paper will address the significance of feminist mobilizations for radical transformative politics within the Middle East while also highlighting the specific dilemmas and obstacles that feminists have been facing within the region. Against a historical background of authoritarian regime’s modernizing gender politics, feminists have historically been challenged to resist state co-optation while pursuing transformative and often radically democratic politics. Accusations of ‘westoxification’ and inauthenticity have seriously impeded feminist activism in a context where nationalist, communalist and sectarian politics are deeply gendered. The accusation of betrayal and cultural inauthenticity continue to be amongst the most debilitating constraints for contemporary feminist activists. While addressing some of the broader historical trends and challenges with respect to feminist mobilizations in the region, the paper will focus on the specific empirical contexts of Iraq and Egypt, two countries with long histories of feminist politics. Both countries are experiencing political changes albeit under radically different circumstances. A comparative analysis will point to both similarities and differences in terms of historical and current feminist trajectories and strategies. Based on ethnographic research in both empirical contexts, involving informal interviews, life stories, oral histories and focus groups, the paper will employ a transnational feminist approach to analyse the ways the struggle against gendered inequalities intersects with the struggle against authoritarianism.