14.06.2012In Dialogue: Charlotte Wiedemann & Mansoura Ez-EldinProspects for Women in the Arab Spring
Berlin, 29 October 2012
Charlotte Wiedemann Many thanks for your detailed answer to my question about the causes of sexual harassment and sexual humiliation in revolutionary times! What you have written about the role of the body in the Arab Revolution will hopefully be taken up by others and explored further. Actually our correspondence has been full of things to think about; we have, after all, been batting some pretty weighty topics back and forth between us!
As I write, I am about to leave for Mali, a country which, when I first went there, was a peaceful and friendly place. Now, however, it is the scene of a very complex conflict, where the political interests of the West, human rights issues, aspirations for democracy, terrorism and greed for raw materials all come together in a messy confusion. The fall of Gaddafi was not wanted by the Malians and it has had dreadful consequences for them. Now, as I sit here with my laptop in a cafe in Berlin, feeling a little nervous at the thought of my imminent departure, I read your letter and it gets me thinking. Bear with me a moment while I commit my thoughts to the page.
Maybe it is just the case that unpleasant things will occur wherever people begin to throw off the shackles of repression and try to take things into their own hands. I have a newspaper in front of me that contains new reports from Myanmar; one of these is an account of the persecution of the Muslim Rohingya people, an abuse that has now entered a new phase with 26,000 refugees reportedly fleeing the violence. The most shocking thing about the article is the claim that pro-democracy activists, opponents of the former dictator, who have consistently stood up for human rights, have now abandoned the Rohingya; and what is worse, some of them, it is said, have even joined in with the nationalist rabble-rousing against these stateless people. Is this possible?
I am a believer in the wonderful notion of the indivisibility of human rights. In reality, however, human rights are very much divisible. Men who are up in arms one minute, defending the principles of freedom and democracy, deny the rights of women in the very next minute. This happens at the very moment that they find themselves in a position where they are able to take decisions on what others may or may not do – even where this is only by virtue of their being in the majority in a constitutional council. A little power is sufficient to corrupt – that is just the way it is.
In Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent so much time under house arrest and has now become a political celebrity, was asked whether the Rohingya should be granted citizenship. And do you know what this icon of the democratic movement answered? She said: "I don't know." That is quite something, isn't it? The Nobel Peace Prize winner does not know whether people who have lived in the country for generations and who are now seeing their houses burned down around them should be given an identity card granting them full civil rights. Had she answered the question with "yes" she would have upset some of her followers. It would have been a bit like an Arab revolutionary incurring the wrath of his male friends by standing up for women's rights.
Does that sound pessimistic? No, I am not a pessimist. But I am becoming more and more aware of the immensely complex issues thrown up by the fact that currently so many people in the world are on the move – or are in movements. They are rising up and demanding their rights, or what they consider to be their rights. At the same time, I am happy to have the opportunity to be in a position to observe and to comment on these times.
Here in Germany we have a well-known and actually already very elderly journalist who is very proud of having visited every country in the world. His name is Peter Scholl-Latour and of course he fulfils a typically male role since no one would ever dream of inviting a doddery old woman on to talk shows as a Middle East expert. In any case, he is still writing bestsellers; his latest is entitled "World Out of Control" (Die Welt aus den Fugen). The blurb refers to ominous things happening all over the world. But is the world really "out of control", just because so many people are fighting for their interests, be it on the streets of Rome or Cairo or in the mines of South Africa? Was the world more stable or less "ominous" when the Cold War was in progress and so many dictatorships were helping to maintain a neatly structured order? I don't think so. But our elderly bestseller author is exploiting people's fears; fears that are also linked to a menacingly unfamiliar world, one where the West is no longer in control and pulling the strings.
Dear Mansura, I have been given a sign from the wings to tell me that our correspondence will soon be drawing to a close. Perhaps there will be others who will want to take up our thread, maybe even add a few more Gordian knots to it! Since we are now apparently living in a world that is "out of control" it is unlikely that either of us need worry about being bored in the future.
I wish you, dear younger sister, an exciting and fulfilling future and I thank you for the time and the thoughts that you have shared with me!