One year after women took to the streets to bring down regimes throughout the Middle East, they are facing an uphill battle to secure equal rights. The Arab Spring was once seen as an opportunity for women’s empowerment. Now, the rise of political Islam is threatening this possibility. Many fear that regimes moderately open to women’s rights will be replaced by Islamic ones that sideline them — as was the case with the Iranian revolution of 1979 and Algerian emancipation of 1962.
Egypt is a case in point. Islamists are demanding repeal of progressive family laws in the wake of the Muslim Brotherhood’s recent political victory. In a country where women braved “virginity tests” by the military to protest for change in Tahrir Square, women now account for only 9 of over 500 newly elected parliamentarians — 55 MPs less than required under the former regime’s 12% quota. No women have been appointed to Egypt’s constitutional reform committee or to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
Similar disturbing trends are evident throughout the region. In Tunisia, seen as one of the more liberal Arab states, unveiled women are increasingly attacked by Salafist radicals. And in Libya, revival of polygamy and Islamic law underlies the platform of the National Transitional Council — composed of 38 men and just 2 women.
With United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, the international community recognized the importance of integrating women in all aspects of peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction. The international community must do more to implement Resolution 1325 in the Middle East. The international community should: