(Mosa'aberising / flickr)
This past week was a pivotal moment for the struggle for women's rights in Egypt. In response to more protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square, police and government security forces beat and stripped several female demonstrators. One moment captured by a photographer ricocheted around the country, and seemingly just as fast, around the world: A woman, her black abaya yanked over her head to expose her naked torso and blue bra, was dragged by helmeted security forces over the pavement. One of them stood over her, hurling his foot down at her bare stomach. Days later, an estimated 10,000 women struck back in a mass rally in central Cairo declaring, "the daughters of Egypt are a red line" that cannot be crossed.
But the abuse of female protesters in Tahrir Square is just the latest in a series of challenges to women's rights since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Soon after his regime fell, many quarters of Egyptian society started fighting to dial back many of the gains women have made in recent years. And, the success of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis in the first two rounds of elections suggests that the new parliament may in fact push restrictions into policy. The revolution may have come to Egypt, but for women, it may mean anything but progress.
Fearing the rollback of some women's rights, the United States may consider supporting the Egyptian military's bid to maintain control in the hope that that the generals will protect women's position. But given the military's own atrocious record on women's rights -- as its treatment of female protesters makes clear -- Washington should avoid this temptation at all costs.
Women began complaining about their lack of representation in positions of policy within days of Mubarak's departure, when the SCAF appointed an all-male committee to write constitutional principles for a March referendum. Things only got worse after that. On March 9, soldiers subjected at least 20 female protesters to electric shocks and beatings and inflicted