For Egyptian women the oppression of the last decades was extreme. They could not report the harassment they experienced to anyone, and men face no consequences when they harass. Public spaces became very problematic for women: their very presence on the street was an opportunity for men to show their “manhood” by harassing them.
Despite a history of Egyptian women’s struggle which began long before the 21st Century, it was a huge breakthrough in 2008, when women workers were recognized as the most militant of the textile workers in the strike in Muhalla al-Kubra. In the midst of the fight, many barriers women face were broken down, for example, women spent nights in occupied factories, a “public space,” where there were unrelated men. The usual harassment did not occur.
That women came to Tahrir Square and participated in the protest was a testament to the power of the movement and to women’s determination to create a total break with the past in everyday relations. Women were not just present, but leading the protests, defending this new reality as they fought Mubarak’s goons.
The change in man/woman relations is not automatic. Women, including journalist Lara Logan, were sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square on Feb. 11, in the midst of the celebration of Mubarak’s ouster. At that time, Tahrir Square was flooded with people who had not been part of the occupation. Logan was rescued by a group of women, but it shows that the struggle to realize freedom does not stop.
The future of the Egyptian revolution will be measured by self-determination in daily life, not just a parliamentary democracy. This shows the meaning for today of Marx’s singling out the man/woman relation as the most fundamental in his philosophy of revolution in permanence.