Middle East News
Protest for women's equality in Egypt ends in violence
Mar 8, 2011, 16:37 GMT
Cairo - A protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Tuesday to mark International Women's Day turned violent when a few hundred women were drowned out by an equal number of men protesting angrily against demands for equality.
The so-called 'Million Woman March to Tahrir Square', which has become the hub of Egypt's protests, was expected to draw out thousands of women.
However, the peaceful women-led demonstration to demand a greater role in politics and equality turned violent with the army firing warning shots into the air to disperse men who clashed with one another as a few hundred women were caught in the middle.
In a twist to the slogan 'Down with the regime' - widely chanted throughout the anti-government protests that led to the ouster of Hosny Mubarak as president - several men chanted 'Down with women.'
'It's clear that the demonstration for women in Tahrir has turned into a demonstration for sexual harassment,' said Wael Abbas, an activist, as reports of women being sexually harassed at the protest emerged.
Women in Egypt - the first in the Arab world to gain the right to vote in 1956 and to secure the right to higher education - played a prominent role in the Egyptian protests that led to Mubarak's resignation and a handful of women were killed during those protests.
'We are asking that women should participate in formulating the future, we are asking for a secular constitution, and that legislation should take into account that men and women are equal,' Hoda Badran told the German Press Agency dpa.
Badran, who is the founder and head of a pan-Arab organization called the Alliance for Arab Women, expressed concern that women are being left out of the transition to democracy.
'Women should not just be represented with one person in cabinet, but by 30 per cent and then 50 per cent even,' she said. 'A qualified woman should even be allowed to be president.'
It was here, on the issue of the presidency, where nerves were rocked on both sides.
Although a few men passed out flyers that supported women's calls for greater representation in politics, many said they did not believe that a woman was capable of being president.
'I support the women and am passing out flyers, but an Egyptian woman is more emotional that a European woman. The Egyptian woman can be a minister, but her emotions will overrun her if she is president,' said Abdel-Fatah Arafa, a young lawyer.
Rabie Ahmed, a tailor, who was in Tahrir Square to watch the demonstration, said that now is not the time for women's demands.
'People can't find food to eat. Women's demands are legitimate, but these protests are just creating chaos,' said Ahmed.
However, human rights activist and lawyer Dalia Zakhary said that she and thousands of other participated during the revolution and that now is the time for women's issue to be on the agenda.
'We will not have a revolution every time we want to amend the laws, so this is the time. Why is it never the time to put women as a priority?' she asked.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, which was first celebrated in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland and is now commemorated in dozens of countries.
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