Polarization as potential? Negotiating Women’s Rights in the Post-evolutionary Constitutions of Egypt and Tunisia.

By Hind Zaki
Submitted to Session Individual Submission, 2018 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Arab States;
Gender/Women's Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
How does political polarization among competing groups affect the ability of women’s rights advocates to negotiate for and push forward legal guarantees for women’s rights during political transitions? This paper focuses on the process of constitutional drafting in the post 2011 political settlements in Egypt and Tunisia (2011-2014). In Tunisia, women’s rights coalitions succeeded in pushing for more constitutional rights for women -such as electoral parity and the state’s obligation to eliminate all forms of violence against women (article 46)- despite the existence of intense political polarization among seculars and Islamists. In Egypt, the parallel failure of women’s rights advocates in Egypt to push for a set of much limited rights in the 2014 constitutional drafting process, in spite of the lack of polarization resulting from the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood, constitutes an interesting puzzle. This paper draws on a year of ethnographic research in Egypt and Tunisia between 2013 and 2014, including 40 in-depth interviews with women’s rights advocates and politicians to argue that contextual forms of political polarization, including the secular/ Islamic divide, could constitute a factor that aides women in attaining more formal rights, given their ability to maneuver political divides, and make use of critical openings in political system at times of transition. In doing so, I problematize existing literature on the effects of democratic openings and political settlements on women’s rights, and the interplay of structural and agential factors that women’s rights advocates could draw on during precarious political moments.