By Hedayat Abdel-Nabi
October 23, 2013
My eyes recently fell on an important letter addressed to Egypt’s Feminist Union, led by Dr Hoda Badran, by the high representative and vice president of the European Union (EU), Lady Catherine Ashton.
Since few people have read it I thought it a good idea to publish excerpts from it, to bring it to the attention of the general public, in Egypt, in the Arab world and in the West.
It was gratifying to read a number of points expressed by Lady Ashton. First and foremost that Egypt remains an important neighbour and partner to the European Union.
“The European Union attaches great importance to Egypt’s future, based on a democratic solution with fully functioning democratic institutions that protect all citizens, including groups belonging to minorities and women. In this regard, the European Union stresses the importance of the rule of law and human rights, with particular emphasis on the fundamental freedoms of association and the rights of women,” said Lady Ashton.
The words of Lady Ashton in this regard are extremely welcome, and it is my belief that the women of Egypt — that is, the millions who took part in the two revolutions, 25 January 2011-30 June 2013 — adhere to Lady Ashton’s principles.
The top EU representative stressed that the European Union condemned all acts of terrorism and that violence cannot be accepted.
A wedding Sunday night turned into a funeral at the Virgin Mary Church in Warak, Giza. Why should a mother of the bride or groom be gunned down in a bloody assassination? Why should an 8-year-girl die in the same circumstances, killed with her the happiness of an innocent child? Two masked gunmen on scooters perpetrated the heinous act, opening fire on scores of innocent Egyptians.
Lady Ashton, Europe during the past decades opened its soil as a safe haven to persecuted members of the Muslim Brotherhood, where the Brotherhood movement flourished, so if you can influence them to lay down their guns and go to the ballot box so we can build a new Egypt, all well and good. If not, this cycle of violence will not end easily.
A group in Egypt claimed that the ballot box is the final say in democracy. Let them lay down their guns and participate in the political transition, as per by their book, to confront the other in transparent and free and fair elections, not by arms.
Again, I am in full agreement with Lady Ashton, and I dare to claim that Egypt’s Feminist Union, leadership, rank and file, the 120 branches in all 27 governorates, would fully agree with Lady Ashton concerning her stated principles on the democratic process.
In July, she said, during her visit to Egypt, when she addressed the issue of sexual abuse of female protesters and noted that it was unacceptable: “Sexual violence must be stopped.”
Again no disagreement on the conduct and practices she would like to see prevail in Egypt.
What Lady Ashton fails to grasp is the fact that sexual violence was used as a terrorising tool to keep women away from Tahrir Square and Al-Ittihadiya Palace perimeters. Isn’t sexual violence a crime? Should the perpetrators be punished or left to create havoc among women? These are simple questions.
Yes, of course, the Feminist Union of Egypt adheres to an all-inclusive political process, mapping the future for Egypt, and electing a new parliament and president in a transparent and democratic process.
However, all parties must adhere to a peaceful transition. Or are we in a conflict situation?
Lady Ashton, I live in Greater Cairo and am petrified every Friday and whenever the Muslim Brotherhood vows to continue its struggle by creating havoc.
Why should people in Egypt suffer mentally and emotionally because a fraction of the population refuses to play even?
Your esteemed response to the letter of the Egyptian Feminist Union of Egypt is a reflection of the importance of the role of civil society in Egypt. It is also a reflection of the growing power of the Feminist Union, which embodies the power of women who represent close to 50 per cent of the population.
The child wants to go to school unthreatened for his or her life; the mother worker wants to earn bread and butter for her family without fear; the grandmother wants her children and grandchildren to come back safely every day to their homes. This is the core of life. Why can’t we Egyptians enjoy it?
I think it is time that all sides of the conflict understand the yearning of Egyptians to walk safely in their streets, and to visit the country’s most beautiful parts, like Sinai, that we can’t visit now because of the threat of terror.
Maybe the women of Egypt, making a new Egypt, can build a safe place for their children and grand children.
Lady Ashton, you are invited to join in that effort, which would be a momentous development for the children of the Nile.
Hedayat Abdel-Nabi is a veteran journalist.