In This Review

Women Rising: In and Beyond the Arab Spring
Women Rising: In and Beyond the Arab Spring
Edited by Rita Stephan and Mounira M. Charrad
New York University Press, 2020, 432 pp

Women in the Middle East and North Africa are typically portrayed as victims—of patriarchy and poverty, war and violence, Orientalism and imperialism. This book suggests, very convincingly, that they are victimized just as much by the antiquated platitudes, stereotypes, and distortions with which they are portrayed. In a collection of 40 short pieces by scholars and activists, the editors showcase a stunning variety of domains in which women are operating on their own behalf and in the service of others. Graffiti artists, journalists, filmmakers, teachers, bloggers, government ministers, community organizers, and political activists are debating constitutional reform in Tunisia, advocating feminism in Islam in Syria, supporting independence in southern Yemen, developing gender studies in Morocco, calling for restorative justice in Libya, demanding an end to sexual harassment in Egypt, advancing gay rights in Lebanon. Although the seeds of this activism were planted as early as the 1920s, Stephan and Charrad argue compellingly that the Arab uprisings of 2010–11 emboldened a generation of women who are now more active, more visible, and more influential in the politics and social life of the region than ever before. Despite all appearances, the editors suggest, there has been a subtle democratization of politics, as bottom-up pressure is forcing greater accountability on often reluctant regimes. The Arab Spring left important traces, visible today in the growing prominence and authority of women.