WOMEN'S RIGHTS IN THE EGYPTIAN CONSTITUTION
Jadaliyya - June 15, 2013
byÂ Ellen McLarney
"Woman and the constitution: Fear of womanâs marginalization rules over allâ blared an April 2012 headline inÂ al-Ahram, joining other protests over the role of women in Egyptâs new constitution. Organizations (âEgyptSoftâ) sprang up, with articles and posts about how âthe Egyptian woman screams in the face of the constitution of discrimination.â Fear reigned about how the post-revolutionary Islamist government would approach womenâs rights, with many womenâs organizations striking a defensive posture. The government of Mohamed Morsi pushed through the new constitution, despite protests all around, including a ritualistic hair cutting ceremony in Tahrir Square.
Criticisms of the new Egyptian constitution have revolved around its presumed violations of womenâs rights. Media reports in the United States have blamed the Islamism of the new state for jeopardizing womenâs âpersonal libertyâ and civil rights. Recent reports byÂ Time,Â NPR,Â Amnesty International,Â Human Rights Watch, theÂ Wilson Center, and theÂ United Nations pose womenâs rights against the âIslamismâ of the new Egyptian government and its constitution. Womenâs âpersonal libertyâ and civil rights, theÂ Time article asserts, is âat oddsâ with âreligious edicts.â These reports stress the dangers that an Islamic government, and âconservative Islamâ in general, will pose to womenâs rights. Mainstream news outlets likeÂ USA Today andCBS News jump to far-fetched conclusions about the implications for womenâs rights, claiming that the new constitution allows fathers to marry off their daughters at the age of nine years old and tells them what to wear. âAnd some,â the article says, âare organizing to protect their rights.â The large majority of this criticism has focused on how Egyptâs new constitution denies women equality.Â CBS News, for example, reports that âwomenâs equality is absent from the Egyptian constitutionâŠthe work of religiously conservative supporters of President Muhammad MorsiâŠand his Islamist allies.â
Yet theÂ 2012 constitution is the first to explicitly establishâwithout qualificationââequality and equal opportunities for all citizens, men and women (muwatinin wa-muwatinat), without distinction, favoritism, or partiality, in rights or duties.â The preamble asserts this equality as one of the founding principles of the new state, going to great lengths to pay tribute to democratic principles like popular sovereignty, political pluralism, dignity, and freedom (of thought, expression, creativity, etc.). Gender equality is an integral element of this liberal vision of the new state, asserted in the preambleâs fifth principle. Moreover, the equality of all citizens is reiterated as a general principle no fewer than five times in the main body of the constitution (in Articles 6, 8, 9, 33, and 63). Of course, whether social or political equality can be achieved by constitutional decrees or amendments is up for debateâand is not a question that I can answer here. But it is clear that equality in general, and gender equality in particular, has an important role in the new constitution. Perhaps they should look at the beam in their own eye rather than the speck in their (Muslim) brotherâs. The originalÂ US Constitution has no mention of equality anywhere between anyone. Women did not gain equal protection under the law until 1971 withÂ Reed v. Reed. And despite (nearly constant) calls for anÂ Equal Rights Amendment (since 1923), the ERA has never been passed into law.
The 2012 constitutionâs attitude toward women represents less a breakâthan continuityâwith previous constitutions. The Morsi governmentâs adaptation of the liberal language of womenâs rights represents the fruition of a long legacy of liberal language developed within the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and more recently in the democratic rhetoric of the Freedom and Justice Party. One of the most important aspects of this legacy is a vocabulary of womenâs rights and womenâs equality, deployed in the service of Islamic mobilization. This advocacy has been essential in cultivating a broad appeal among the populace and to casting the MB as a forwarding-thinking reformist party. (See Mona al-Ghobashyâs excellent article on this inInternational Journal of Middle East Studies.)
This article charts a genealogy of the language of âwomenâs equalityâ in successive constitutions, as the new Egypt converts the fervor of revolutionary change into the civil liberties of a new constitutionalism. Trying to set the foundations for âfreedomâ in the wake of revolutionary liberation (as inÂ Hannah Arendtâs classic distinction), the codification of these rights represents a new kind of regulation of the body politic toward the ends of human development and free enterprise, both inside and outside the home.
The new constitution converts the revolutionary spirit of the uprisings into constitutionally mandated civil liberties, the better to regulate and delimit citizen rights within the framework of the new state. InÂ On Revolution, Hannah Arendt describes how through constitutions, the state converts revolutionary freedoms into essentially limited notions of civil rights and liberties. Through this process, the state is able to regulateâand restrictânewfound freedoms through law (31-33). In a recent article on citizenship after revolution,Â Maya Mikdashi points out that âcitizenship and gender reveal themselves to be mutually constitutiveâŠbecause political society is constituted through state-regulated kinship, one must study gender, sex, and their embodiments and regulations in order to approach the state and its citizens.â Post-revolution constitution making re-establishes and re-entrenches what Arendt calls aÂ constitutio libertatis of theÂ novus ordo saeclorum, a secular liberal order that needs the grounding and legitimating âsanction of religion ever more urgentlyâ (161). Feminists and activists critique these new constitutionsâ valorizations of complementarity and the family, like in a recent panel on the gendering of constitutions at theÂ World Social Forum. But as Mikdashi and others (likeÂ Mervat Hatem,Â Wendy Brown,Â Carole Pateman, andÂ Joan Scott) observe, this sexual contract is the counterpart of citizenshipâs social contract in a liberal secular order. And its origins lie in secular state politics (both colonial and postcolonial) that depend heavily on religion for its legitimization, religion that is said to reside in the family, in womenâs bodies, in the sexual contract, and in the inviolability of private property.
Outcry over the new constitution has had a different tenor inside Egypt, directed less at its presumed Islamism, than at the constitutionâs autocratizing elements. Most of these critiques were guided by a belief that the Mohamed Morsi government and the Muslim Brotherhood were engineering political institutions and state policy in ways that will preserve the authoritarian character of the Egyptian state, albeit concealed under a faĂ§ade of democracy. Fears have revolved around the use of democratic language as a fig leaf to cover the apparatus of an authoritarian âdeep state,â one whose structure and institutions may be intractable or even useful to the Muslim Brotherhood. The use of democratic rhetoric to disguise other, less democratic, aims is a tactic familiar to the region, whether in its imperial, authoritarian, or neoliberal garb.
Gender Equality: Public Rights and Private Duties
Gender equality first appears in theÂ 1956 constitution promulgated under Gamal Abd al-Nasser. âAll Egyptians areÂ equal under the law inÂ public rights and duties, without discrimination due toÂ sex, origin, language, religion, or beliefâ (Article 31, emphasis added). In contrast, theÂ 1923 constitution (Article 3) called for equality for all Egyptians, without discrimination with respect toÂ origin, language, or religion without mentioning sex. In addition to gender equality, the 1956 constitution also introduced the tension between womenâs public work and her duties to the family, asserting that âthe State facilitates for women the agreement (al-tawfiq) between her work in society and her duties to the familyâ (Article 19). As in the US Constitution, the tension between womenâs âpublic workâ and her âduties to the familyâ have been at the core of contestations aroundâand liberal assertions ofâwomenâs legal equality with men. This emphasis on safeguarding the family is one the nostalgic aftereffects of the ruthless individualism of liberal citizenship, where duties, obligations, responsibilities, care, community, and communitarianism is projected onto, and circumscribed within, a feminized realm of intimate relations, characterized in naturalistic and biological terms.
This dualism between public rights and private duties is what some, likeÂ Joan Scott,Â Carole Pateman, andMervat Hatem have critiqued as the gendered âparadoxâ inherent in liberal ideology. It is a sexual contract that mirrors the social, with duties shoring up rights, family shoring up the individual, religion shoring up the state, difference shoring up equality, etc. Yet these contradictions are also how secular liberalism produces its own (seeming) conceptual opposites, harmonizing them as âcomplementaryâ to liberalismâs own political ends.
The language ofÂ tawfiq between womenâs public work and her duties in family life was reproduced verbatim into the 1971 and 2012 constitutions. TheÂ 1971 constitution states: âThe State shall guarantee the agreement (tawfiq) between the duties of a woman toward her family and her work in society, considering her equal status with man in the fields of political, social, cultural, and economic life, without contravening the laws of Islamic shariâaâ (Article 11). This constitution introduced something new into the tension between public rights and private duties: religion as potentially opposed to womenâs equal rights with men. This clause thus set up a binary between equal work in (secular) society, in contradistinction to (religious) hierarchies governing family life. The language of the clause connects equality toÂ public rights, while suggesting a different set of genderedprivate duties.
The clause asserting womenâs equality to menâbut only where this equality does not âviolate the rules of Islamic jurisprudenceââfound its way into an earlier draft of the 2012 constitution. After public uproar, the drafters ultimately opted for broad, unqualified, assertions of gender equality. The removal of the clause speaks volumes about the liberal ambitions of the Morsi government, ambitions that are both political and economic. The new government clearly intends to show that womenâs equality is not antithetical to an âIslamic society,â to an Islamist president, to government by an Islamist party, or to an âIslamic democracy.â Genderinequalities remain encoded in the personal status laws with regards to witnessing, polygamy, and divorce, for example. But the liberal language of the new constitution sublimates these inequalities (in typical liberal fashion) underneath euphoric celebrations of newfound political liberties, pluralism, democracy, and freedom (mentioned no fewer than eight times in the preamble alone). The language has clearly rankled activists, who, along with feminists, critique this liberalismâs dissimulations and hypocrisies, along with its dualisms and paradoxes.
What purpose does the discursive ideology of equality serve for the new Egyptian state? Its authors clearly aim to thwart resilient assumptions about the incompatibility of Islam with gender equality. But they also wield a long-developed discourse of gender equality in Islam as a political tool. This gender equality (and equal rights and duties) has been a pillar of contemporary Islamist ideology, developed in the writings of thinkers like Sayyid Qutb, Abd al-Wahid Wafi, and Muhammad al-Ghazali. Each of them wrote extensively on Islamic notions of womenâs and menâs reciprocal rights and duties, on conceptions of Islamic freedom and equality, and on women. Each focuses on gender equality as a pillar of social justice and human rights in Islam. It is a principle that the Freedom and Justice Party spokeswoman Dina Zakaria recently reiterated in an interview about the constitution onÂ NPR. Dr. Huda Ghaniyya, one of the drafters of the new constitution and a member of the Peopleâs Assembly (the lower house of Parliament), similarly defended the constitutionâs protections of âwomenâs rights, dignity, and freedomâ in a video onÂ Ikhwan Tube. The liberal language of gender equality and/or complementarity (two sides of the same coin) continues to permeate Islamist rhetoric in Egypt and elsewhere, as activists deploy the language of rights to argue for both religious and political freedoms. This language grows out of a longer trajectory of rights discourse in the region that informs current conceptions of gendered citizenship.
Family, Motherhood, and Childhood
The 2012 constitution calls for providing free services for motherhood and childhood, a clause that has been interpreted as an Islamist bid to relegate women to the home and force them to be mothers (inÂ USA Today,CBS News,Â Egypt Independent,Â International Business Times,Â Ms. Magazine, etc.) It has caused an uproar in Arab and Egyptian activist circles, at theÂ World Social Forum, in NGOs like theÂ al-Majlis al-Qawmi li-al-Marâaand theÂ Women and Memory Forum, and in the media, inÂ al-Ahram,Â al-Sharq al-Awsat, andÂ Egypt Independent. The clause of âprotectionâ for the family has been understood as emblematic of Islamist âfocus on the family,â as consigning women to domestic roles, and as opposed to womenâs rights.
Yet protection of the family, and especially of motherhood and childhood, is hardly unique to the 2012 constitution. It is derived directly from the 1956 constitution (Article 18) and from the 1971 constitution (Article 10) that also call for supporting the family and protecting motherhood and childhood. These articles might be understood as an Islamist provision, but they are partly influenced and derived from Articles 16 and 25 from theÂ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), promulgated just before the Free Officersâ Revolution in 1952. The language of protections for motherhood and childhood is not found in the 1923 constitution, butÂ isintroduced in the later, post-UDHR constitutions. Article 18 of the 1956 constitution says: âThe State protects and supports (takfil al-daâm) the family, in accordance with the law, and protects motherhood and childhood.â Article 25 of theÂ UDHR similarly declares that âmotherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance,â just as Article 16 calls for protection of the family by society and state, as a ânatural and fundamental group unit of society.â Not surprisingly, Article 5 of the 1956 constitution echoes this language, stating that âthe family is the basis of society and her [family,Â usra, being feminine] support is religion, morals, and nationalism.â
TheÂ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its principles were âtranslatedâ into Islamic thought in Egypt, in widely-circulated texts like Sayyid QutbâsÂ Social Justice in Islam (1949), Abd al-Wahid WafiâsÂ Human Rights in Islam (1957), and in Muhammad al-GhazaliâsÂ Human Rights Between the Teachings of Islam and the Declaration of the United Nations (1963). These thinkers called for freedom, rights, and equality, first under the Egyptian monarchy, and later, under the dictatorship of Gamal Abdel Nasser, as they strategically deployed ârights talkâ as a political imaginary against repressive regimes. The family became a place for envisioningâand articulatingâa system of reciprocal rights and duties in an Islamic society, symbolically standing in for an Islamic polity in a secular dictatorship that brokered no peace with political Islam. Both the state and opposition parties strategically deployed the language of rights and freedoms as ideological tools during this time.
Personal Status Laws: A Secular Formula?
Criticisms of Egyptâs new (âIslamistâ) constitution have focused on Article 10: âThe family is the basis of society, her support is religion, morality, and patriotism.â This article has been generally interpreted as an Islamist provision, as flowing from an Islamist emphasis on family values and on womenâs roles as mothers. Yet Article 10 hardly has its origins in the Islamic ideology of the Freedom and Justice Party, as public commentaries have relentlessly asserted. Article 10 is taken verbatim from Article 5 (âThe family is the basis of society, founded on religion, morality, and patriotismâ) of the 1956 constitution under Nasser, who was, by that time, resolutely at war with the Muslim Brotherhood. This historical context, along with the looming moral presence of theÂ UDHR, is utterly critical to understanding this particular formulation of a religious family as the basis of society (versus politics). Through the constitution, Nasser sought to curb and control the powers of not just the Muslim Brotherhood, but also al-Azhar and the religious courts. He did this partly by concentrating religion in the family and the personal status laws, as emblems of authentic religion, but also circumscribed within the family. In 1956, Nasser abolished the religious courts, bringing the (religious) laws of personal status under the jurisdiction of the (civil, secular) national courts, in addition to bringing the administration of al-Azhar under government control. The personal status laws were, nonetheless, still governed by the religious laws of their respective religious communities. In his bookÂ Formations of the Secular, Talal Asad calls the personal status laws âthe expression of a secular formula, defining a place in which âreligionâ is allowed to make its public appearance through state law,â and where religion is (publicly) relegated to private life (231). Article 10 is a reflection of that âsecular formula,â growing out the stateâs complexâand contestedârelationship with Â the (religious) personal status laws. The personal status laws have historically functioned as a means of controlling religious law (partially) by consigning it to the family (and religious property), a tactic first used by colonial regimes in the region. Relegating shariâa to family law served to delimit its sphere of influence.
The role of Islamic law in state legislation has been one of the most contested questions in Egyptâs constitutional historyâone that has been manipulated toward different political ends by different regimes. One of the biggest obsessions of the new media was whether the Morsi government was going to impose religious law. But the personal status laws have come to stand in for (or even replace) religious law in general. Article 2 of the 2012 constitution states that âIslam is the religion of the state and Arabic its official language. Principles of the Islamic shariâa are the main source of legislation.â The current constitutionâs assertion of Islamic law as âthe source of legislationâ is closely related to the role of the personal status laws as a repository for religious law in the Egyptian state. It is no accident that the next article, Article 3 of the 2012 constitution, goes on to define religious law of the respective religious minority communities as the basis for their own personal status laws, reiterating the centrality of religion (and religious law) to governing the personal affairs of the family.
Again, Article 2 stating that shariâa isÂ the main source of legislation for the state is not unique to the new constitution, but is tied to a complex history of negotiations over the role of religious law in state politics. The 1956 and 1971 constitutions declared Islam the religion of the state, but the 1971 constitution added an additional clause asserting that shariâa wasÂ a main source of legislation (even though the personal status codes were the only laws based on shariâa). In a later constitutional amendment in 1980, the Anwar Sadat government would change this to shariâa asÂ the main source of legislation (identical to the clause in the new constitution). This clause was designed to counteract the uproar against âJihanâs law,â a set of reforms to the personal status laws instituted by emergency decree in the wake of the Camp David Accords. The reforms were popularly attributed to Sadatâs wife, Jihan, who had led the Egyptian delegation to the International Womenâs Year conference in Mexico City in 1975. Presidential fiat suddenly made reforms long and arduously debated throughout the 1960s into state law.
Shariâa asÂ the source of legislation seemed designed to cushion the blow of not just peace with Israel, but also the related structural adjustment policies of the late 1970s. The Sadat regime simultaneously issued new laws designed to facilitate womenâs work in public employment, while simultaneously encouraging greater productivity (and economic management) of the household. The courts did little to enforce shariâa as the basis of law, despite a number of cases brought by Islamists in the 1980s to test its applicability. Article 2 of the 2012 constitution adopts the language of the 1980 amendment, but without a clear blueprint of its applicability beyond the personal status laws. This legal language reinforces the family and gendered relationships as the sphere proper of religion, religious government, and religious law.
Family: The Unit of the (Neo)Liberal Polity
These legal provisions about the inviolability of the family instituted a political division of labor in the social life of the secular state. It is well known that Sadatâs overtures to Islamist groups aimed at harnessing the political power of Islamist groups against the socialist leftâtoward Sadatâs goals of economic liberalization, privatization, and structural adjustment. These policies began in 1974 (around the time of Richard Nixonâs visit to Egypt) and were furthered with Egyptâs 1977 agreement with the International Monetary Fund (on the eve of Sadatâs âjourney to Jerusalemâ). This political and economic liberalization contributed to the rise of Islamic groups in Egypt, as they capitalized on newfound freedoms to spread their message.
Sadatâs 1971 constitution re-introduced a concept absent from the constitution promulgated under Nasser: the family as the locus of private property (amlak in Article 10). This clause is grouped in a cluster of articles (9-11) that talk not just about family and private property, but also about motherhood and childhood, a gendered division of labor, and womenâs equality. The clause about the family as the locus of private property resuscitated elements from the earlier âliberalâ constitution of 1923, one that declared âhomesâ and âpropertyâ sacrosanct and inviolable (hurma), a word connoting not just sacredness, but with feminine overtones of theharim, women. These legal provisions cultivated the family as the locus of property, as the sphere proper of womenâs labor, and as necessary to the proper management of national resources, whether human or material.
The gendered terms of the 1971 constitution set the legislative stage for a series of interrelated processes that included economic liberalization (âThe Open Door Economic Policyâ), rapprochement with the United States, peace with Israel, deals with the International Monetary Fund, structural adjustment, international aid, and loosened restrictions on Islamist groups. Family and women became targeted as key sites of economic reform. Meanwhile, international organizations swooped down on a newly âopenedâ Egypt. One of their more fervent aims was accomplishing the goals of the International Womenâs Year, (economic) development and (economic) equality, in which Jihan Sadat played a key part. After she led a delegation to the conference in June 1975, she presided over a conference at al-Azhar on âMakanat al-Marâa fi al-Usra al-Islamiyya (The Place of Woman in the Islamic Family, 1975), with assistance from the United Nations Population Council. The conference reiterated the family as a âfundamental unit for building society; a microcosmic image of society itself; society takes from the family its means of government, organization, and modes of nation building.â One of the most important products of this international aid was al-Azharâs International Islamic Center for Population Studies and Research, with projects that continue to be jointly sponsoredâand funded byâUSAID,Â UNICEF, and theÂ Ford Foundation.
Commitment to privatization and structural adjustment policies, and accordingly, peace with Israel, has been born out in the post-revolution era, as the Morsi government has sought out bigger and better agreements with the IMF (aÂ $4.8 billion loan proposed in November 2012). The Freedom and Justice PartyâsÂ Nahda Project, a document that served as a platform for the Morsi presidency and a blueprint for the constitution, could not be more explicit in its commitment to neoliberal expansion. One of the first sections of the document (after âBuilding a Political Systemâ) is on âTransforming Into a Development Economy.â Womenâs labor is absolutely essential to this neoliberal vision, as it was to aid projects of the 1980s and 1990s. The document ends with assertions of the importance of womenâs labor in the household economy and in âprivate enterprise,â asserting that the vision of the Nahda Project âdepends on respecting the dignity of the Egyptian citizen and his right to own property.â
The Nahda Project speaks the (neo)liberal language of womenâs equality with men, of the complementarity of their labor, of the importance of finding a gendered balance between work in the family and outside the family, in the household economy and in âprivate enterprise,â in private and in public. This contestedâand genderedâterritory has been an integral part not only of development projects and discourses in the region (the UNâs Women and Development initiative, for example), but also in subsequent Egyptian constitutions that wrestle with the relationship between family duties, âwork in societyâ (1956, 1971), and âpublic workâ (2012). InPatriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, sociologist Maria Mies calls this a process of Â âhousewifizationâ in âthe new international division of labor,â as capital ârediscovers third world womenâsâ importance to the global economy. The new constitutionâs call for an agreement between public work and private duties has also attracted criticism, as an Islamist bid to impose Islamic family values on the Egyptian family. I would argue that these âfamily valuesâ are an integral part of the liberal politics of the new constitution, family values that are not unique to an Islamic society, nor to an Islamic polity (see Wendy Brownâs âLiberalismâs Family Valuesâ inÂ States of Injury.) These family values shore up a rights-based community, providing a source of communal cohesion in a polity calling for individual liberties. These family values emphasize the importance of private property in the family, managed as an economically productive household economy, as the political and economic unit of a neoliberal polity.
Womenâs equality with menâin the new Egyptian constitution, in the Nahda Project, and in the United Statesâ ERAâhas hinged on issues of womenâs labor in the home and outside the home. Like the new constitution, the Nahda Project also asserts womenâs equality with men, doing so in a framework that addresses the issue of the balance between womenâs work in the home and outside the home. This section of the document begins with verse 3:195 from theÂ Qurâan âI do not squander the work of any work from among you, whether male or female, you are from one another.â The document goes on to derive a principle of commensurability (mukafaâa) between men and women âin status and position.â From the perspective of liberal feminism (and developmentalist logics) economic participation and economic independence foster womenâs equality with men, concepts articulated in this section of the Nahda Project. Drawing on the language of the earlier constitutions, the Nahda Project calls for âsupporting and empowering the Egyptian woman and facilitating (ifsah) the path to her social and political participation in the priorities of national work and development, growing from our belief that women are equal to men in position and status, commensurate in work and importance.â The first clause asserts âwe strive toward empowering the Egyptian woman in practice and not just in words, and toward eliminating the obstacles that block her from fruitful participation in all domains of life, particularly those domains that help women to realize a balance between her contributions to home and family and to society.â Much like other development documents that talk aboutÂ empowerment, economic participation, growth, and âfruitsâ are understood as fostering economic freedoms, independence, and equality. The Nahda Project explicitly calls for fostering womenâs participation in small businesses and âprivate enterprise.â
As with prior constitutions, and prior governments, the issue of womenâs rights and womenâs equality has been enmeshed in the question of womenâs labor, both inside and outside the home. Women represent a critical factor in the stateâs project of human development, of which womenâs (human) rights are understood as an essential element. Equality in this sense means two things: the right to economic equality (through formal labor) and reciprocal rights and duties in the family (informal labor). Women play a central role in cultivating the raw human material of the family, but also of overseeing private property and private enterprise, the building blocks of the (neo)liberal state. Key articles of the constitution (namely Article 10) address this issue, defining womenâs pivotal importance in mediating between the private and public sectors. They play a key role in creating an âagreementâ or a âbalanceâ (tawfiq) between the two realms, one that synchronizes them toward (what the 1956 constitution) calls the âgoals of the nation.â
Finally, the 2012 constitution breaches what has been a long contested and debated topic in Islamic thought about the legitimacy of womenâs political participation. Drawing on Islamic writings about womenâs political participation and leadership, debates that erupted in the 1980s and 1990s, the Nahda Project calls for a campaign to overcome cultural biases about this political participation. The marks of a number of important Islamic feminists, especially thinkers like Heba Raouf, can be seen in the document, marks that found their way into the new constitution. In her bookÂ al-Marâa wa-l-âAmal al-Siyasi (Woman and Political Work, 1995), Raouf developed a theory of womenâs political participation in the Islamic umma through âjihadâ in the family. Drawing on conceptions of the family as the first âcellâ of society in modern Islamic thought, she reorients politics in the personal, in the sphere of family relations. This work in the family is what Raouf calls a ânon-violent jihad,â a âwomenâsâ jihadâ that effects social change at the level of intimate relations. Describing a kind of biopower from the ground up, her Islamic theory of womenâs political work in the 1990s gave way to a later understanding of the power of informal networks, of community institutions, of micro-politics, and of intimate relations in transforming the larger, seemingly indomitable forces of global politics. She developed this theory in the early 1990s, in the midst ofâand in response toâa proliferation of development projects and reports focusing on women, work, and family in the Arab world. This âpolitics of informalityâ is what she also terms the âsoft forceâÂ al-quwa al-naâima, of âgradual institutional change,â a tactic that has long been one of Islamic organizationsâ most powerful political tools in Egypt. But âsoft forceâ has also become one of the ways of interpreting the power of the new revolutions in the Arab world. Raouf, a political science professor at Cairo University and an Islamist public intellectual, draws on Joseph Nyeâs concept of âsoft power,â but also deploys classical Islamic language ofÂ niâma, of a blessing or of smoothness that also has a feminine connotation of womenâs softness. The preamble of the new constitution includes a notion of âsoft forceâ as its eleventh and final principle.
The Egyptian constitution uses the masterâs tools to dismantle the masterâs house, in Audre Lordeâs famous metaphor inÂ Sister Outsider. Lorde also argued that this made âgenuine changeâ impossible. Her essay is a criticism of white feminismâs notion of âmarital slavery,â writing that âthe need and desire to nurture is not pathological but redemptiveâ and is its own kind of âfreedomâ and âemancipation.â Lordeâs ideas would influence feminist activists and theorists like Patricia Hill Collins who wrote about the social and political value of âmotherworkâ and bell hooks who wrote about âhomeplaceâ as a site of resistance in a white world. The new constitution clearly uses the language of liberalismâand the techniques of neoliberalismâto imagine a rights based society, re-envisioning a capitalist democracy in Islamic terms. But the document also envisions a neo/liberal family, structured by notions of an equalâor reciprocalâdivision of labor between the formal and informal economies, between the private and public, between family and polity.Â A haven in a heartless world, it shores up community in an age of predatory capitalism and structural adjustment.
Article 10âs clause about balancing duties to the family and work outside the homeârife in any mommy blogs in the blogosphere, or in the recent media storm over the Anne-Marie Slaughter piece inÂ The Atlantic, or in any number of books and movies about the problem of âhaving it allââhas been read in the American media as symptomatic of the Islamic character of the new constitution. Rather than being interpreted as a gesture to acknowledging the actual conditions created by a (neo)liberal vision of womenâs equality and liberation, the American (and leftist Egyptian) press interpreted these references to the family as repressive. This is hardly an Islamic form of oppression, but rather whatÂ Nikolas Rose calls âthe despotism at the heart of liberalism,â where the family has a âkey role in strategies of government through freedomâ (43, 74). And if the Morsi government turns dictatorial like its predecessors, it is most likelyÂ because of the authoritarian governmentality at the heart of liberalism (theÂ âilliberality of liberal governmentâ), rather than an Islamic refusal of rights talk.
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