Women continue to pay the price
by Salim Mansur
A year ago on Dec. 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself on fire in despair with poverty and absence of any hope.
He saw himself caged, as did so many others, in his native country turned into a prison of daily abuse from where there seemed to be no exit.
Bouazizi died of his burns some three weeks later, yet his final act of desperation shook the despondent populace of Tunisia into the making of what has come to be known as the Arab Spring.
The idea of Arab Spring — a beginning in the transition of Arab states from authoritarian rule to democracy — was an expression filled with desperate longings that somehow democracy based on freedom and individual rights might take root in the historically arid political landscape of the Arab world.
If voting is the sole measure of democracy, then the periodic elections arranged by the fallen regimes of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt or Saddam Hussein in Iraq should have qualified as Arab versions of the same.
It is worth recalling Edmund Burke's aphorism, as he watched the French Revolution unfold, that it is relatively easier to bring down tyranny than establish a government respectful of freedom and individual rights.
The first round of voting, just concluded in Egypt, gives an indication of where this ancient land is headed in the making of a new political order.
The Muslim Brotherhood and its even more rigidly orthodox ally, the Party al-Nour (Party of Light), are assured of gaining a super-majority in the parliament following a second round of voting in the new year.
Hence the Arab version of democracy taking shape on the Nile will be similar to the one established in Iran following the revolution of 1979.
The Shariah-based order that the Muslim Brotherhood and its ally are committed to hoist on Egypt as a result of the popular vote will mirror the religious-political order in Saudi Arabia.
Anticipating another cruel political system unfolding in Egypt and elsewhere in the region shaken by the Arab Spring, religious minorities such as the Coptic Christians and others are seeking an early exit.
Yet the most vulnerable to the Shariah-based authoritarianism are women, and their voices remain muzzled.
In an act symbolically similar to that of Bouazizi, an Egyptian woman took to her blog despairing of an emerging Islamist order that will suffocate what little freedom remains for females in society.
Aliaa Elmahdy, a 20-year-old student in Cairo University, posted on her blog nude pictures of herself as a statement of her freedom in a society where public nudity could lead to a capital punishment.
Elmahdy's act was one of defiance, to underscore how shrunken and oppressive is the Shariah-based status of women.
Only individuals living inside the belly of a beast or escaping from one — as I have written before — understand the full horror of such existence and their desperate acts as warnings for others often go unheard.
If Bouazizi had survived, he might have drawn satisfaction with what he ignited.
But only Aliaa Elmahdy and her vulnerable sisters know from inside, how this Arab Spring, in facilitating under democratic facade a Shariah-based political system, will terrorize them.