Finding Fearless Egyptian Feminist Mona Eltahawy

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This week I made a huge discovery. Her name is Mona Eltahawy. She is a brave visionary and I am so thankful she exists.

I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know too much about Eltahawy, a truly inspiring feminist, until I saw her speak on Monday night. I did know that during the 18-day revolution that toppled Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, she emerged as one of the leading voices in Egypt. I did not know that in November 2011, she was beaten by Egyptian riot police who broke her left arm and right hand, and sexually assaulted her. She was detained for 12 hours by the Interior Ministry and Military Intelligence.

Now Mona Eltahawy is all I can think about.

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When Eltahawy took to the stage at the PEN World Voices Festival the bright lights illuminated her flaming red hair and her serene face, yet her message was anything but calm and comforting. The audience hushed – we were we rapt – as she presented her worst and best-case scenario for where the world would be in 2050.

She was one of a number of writers from around the globe including Tom Stoppard, Richard Flanagan, Jackie Wang and Aminatta Forna, who shared their visions for the future. They were impressive too, but Mona was the standout for me. That’s why I am going to let her words speak for themselves.

I’ve transcribed her speech below (I do hope I’ve captured it correctly). I’ve only included her best-case scenario. I think you’ll see why after you’ve read it.

The Future Is Now – 2050 – Mona Eltahawy’s Best-Case Scenario

“Three women are about to be inaugurated. They got to know each other in 2015 on a social media App called Twitter after a feminist they followed posted a series of Tweets on the film Born In Flames, an underground queer anarchist film in which women use direct action to fight for women’s rights. Donya Zacky is sixty and about to become Egypt’s first woman President. Areej Mohammad, 55, is about to become Saudi Arabia’s first woman Mufti. Octavia Hernandez 53 is about to become the third consecutive woman president of The United States of America, having just beat Chelsea Clinton, who at 70 was considered too old.

Donya, Areej and Octavia had all determined that their inaugurations would happen on the same day to honor the solidarity that had kept them going from that first day they met on Twitter. Not only was Donya about to become Egypt’s first woman president, she was also openly bisexual and a poet—the perfect antidote to decades of hyper-masculine Egyptian politics.

Donya had enthusiastically gone into the 2011 revolution but was quickly frustrated with how male-centric it had become. She watched in horror as it turned into political musical chairs between the military and the political Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In 2015 she joined an underground, anarchic feminist movement Sekhmet Sisters. Sekhmet was an ancient Egyptian Goddess of retribution and sex. As Donya described her, “first she’d kick your head in, then she’d fuck your brains out.” Her first presidential decree was to build monuments in every Egyptian city to the Revolutionary Sisters to honor the courage of women who had exposed the so-called virginity tests the military had subjected them to in 2011.

Areej was an atheist but had agreed to accept the post of the first woman Mufti of Saudi Arabia because she still believed in change from within. When she was seven, one of her cousins, Marah, burnt to death because morality police refused to let the girls out of their burning school building because girls weren’t wearing veils. Nobody would tell Areej what had happened to Marah, but by 2015 she had figured out what had happened and had used social media to start Radhika Daughters Brigades, an underground radial feminist movement.

That year, the new Saudi King had removed the only woman in the Cabinet. He knew his western allies cared more about buying oil from him and selling him weapons – feminist foreign policy be damned. Through years of increasingly audacious civil disobedience Radhika Daughters Brigades had over thrown the Saudi Royal Family and the zealous clerics that helped bolster them. A parliamentary democracy was established in the kingdom and the coalition government has asked Areej to become Mufti because they understood once Saudi Arabia turned feminist it would turn every Muslim majority county upside-down. One of Areej’s first fatwas was to allow women to have multiple spouses – feminism and polyamory at once – not bad.

Octavia is 53. Her lessons in frontline feminism blossomed both thanks to her friendship with Donya and Areej, but also because she was from Indiana, where Purvi Patel was sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide and neglect after she miscarried.

The year before during mid-term elections Octavia saw the toxic affect of racism, narcissism and sexism when white women voted against Wendy Davis in a race that was a litmus test on how far, what she called, The Christian Brotherhood of The United States was willing to destroy women’s reproductive rights and how it was women of color, such as herself, who paid the highest price.

Driven by the words of Octavia Butler, the science fiction fantasy writer she was named after, Octavia would comfort her Egyptian and Saudi friends with her inspiring words. When they asked, why do women fight feminists? She would answer with the Octavia Butler quote, “drowning people sometimes die fighting their rescuers.”

The Patel case, much like other affronts to women of color in The United States, slipped by and it wasn’t until white women began to be imprisoned for feticide that voters decided that women were more than just incubators. Rape and sexual assault were almost unheard of by the time Octavia was to take her oath. Her predecessor had put into effect a curfew for boys and men that had radically lowered rates of crime across the U.S. One of Octavia’s first decrees was to make public The Harriet Tubman Feminist Underground Railroad. The three friends had launched the network in 2020 to offer feminist aid—be it to whisk away girls in danger of female genital mutilation, forced marriage and those in need of a safe abortion.

Some were surprised by the triple inauguration of Donya, Areej and Octavia, calling it as radical as their underground railroad. But how radical can a movement comprising half the world be in 2050?”

SPREAD THIS SPEECH… THE REVOLUTION STARTS NOW.

Follow her on Twitter @monaeltahawy and buy her book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution. There is also a fantastic interview by another fearless feminist Christiane Amanpour on CNN here.

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Buy Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or better yet, at your local independent book store.