Egyptian elections have dictated the eradication of female activist Doria Shafiq from their history books. In Libya, the post-revolution of dictator Muammar Gaddafi made to transition the country into democracy has squandered a voice for Magdulien Abaida, who is a supporter of gender equality. And in post-Ben Ali Tunisia, the New York Times noted the freedom of women continues to hang in the balance. In all said cases, the shift from a secular dictatorship to democracy has been stained by religious restrictions on the behalf of women. This brings about the question — were these women actually better off with dictatorships than they are now?
The answer is yes — to an extent. And here’s why.
In Egypt, the new government is in wide support of following Islamic laws, which have been propagated with groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis. The quest by liberals and secularists to prevent this from occurring has fallen by the wayside by means of majority rule. Founded in Egypt, the Brotherhood’s goals include establishing a pan-Islamic state throughout all levels of government in each state. The Salafis find their roots in Saudi Arabia and consist of ultra-conservative Muslims. Before the upheavals in 2011, both groups were kept at bay by Egypt’s military dictatorship. With the ultimate passing of an Islamic-inspired constitution, women’s rights have become marginalized.
Abaida from Libya pointed out that extremist Islamics view gender equality as something undesirable and “Western.” Extremists have also kidnapped her and threatened her life, simply because she was viewed as an anti-Islamic figure. In Tunisia, Islam had once been controlled to the point where authorities held suspicions over attending a mosque more than once a week, banned female headscarves in public, and prosecuted popular Islamic figures.
Now, according to the aforementioned New York Times article, Tunisian women feel lost and are without initiative after the lost of a pro-female dictatorship. The contrast sounds abnormal — democracy being a deterrent for women’s rights. That any sort of good or benefit can blossom from the reigns of a dictatorship but in the cases of some Arab Spring countries, this is the reality. Women who protested with men are now being set back as second class citizens due excessively traditional and patriarchal viewpoints. The problem isn’t so much the democracies themselves, but the freedoms that allow extremists groups to rise and take precedent.
The next step for female citizens of these countries is to continue speaking against various restrictions placed upon them — sometimes at risk to their livelihoods.