I had long been waiting for an article like Mona Eltahawy's ("Why Do They Hate Us?," May/June 2012), without which the Arab Spring would be little more than a reshuffle of political leadership. Eltahawy struck all the right notes. She questioned the "revolutionary" nature of the uprisings, explored the "toxic mix of culture and religion" in the region, and correctly blamed the West for the "cultural relativism" that allows medieval practices in the Arab world to go unchecked.
By publishing such a daring article -- in a "Sex Issue" with pictures of a nude woman, no less -- Eltahawy exposed herself to accusations of blasphemy by Muslim readers. This makes Eltahawy a brave Egyptian, one of the few true revolutionaries the nation's uprising has produced. Revolutionaries must sometimes rely on generalizations to provoke. While Eltahawy's title suggests that all Arab men hate all Arab women, she in fact takes a swipe at the entire Arab-Islamic establishment, which includes men and women.
Like Eltahawy, I have been disappointed with the results of the Egyptian uprising. But while the rallies in Cairo's Tahrir Square might not constitute a revolution, Eltahawy's article certainly does. Discussion about the essay may still be taking place largely in elite circles, but this kind of article is a prerequisite for steering the debate on the street away from meaningless political bickering and toward talk of change that matters.
Washington Bureau Chief, Al Rai
Do They Really Hate Us?
Does Mona Eltahawy's thesis that terrible things happen to women in the Middle East because Arab men "hate" women square with reality on the ground?
Let's start with one of the most high-profile examples of gender discrimination in the Arab world: Saudi Arabia's female driving ban. According to Gallup surveys, the majority of women and men in the kingdom say they oppose the ban. Saudi women, in other words, continue to be barred from the wheel because of political calculations by a small but powerful group of conservatives -- not generalized male antagonism. This complex dynamic is harder to fit into a sound bite than "they hate us," but is far closer to the truth. The majority of Arab men also support equal access to education for boys and girls, equal legal rights for men and women, and even a woman's right to work at any job for which she is qualified.
Do men support all these rights as strongly as women do? No. And the biggest gender gap is on women's employment. But men's views of women's rights matter. Gallup found that the more men support women's participation in the workforce in a given country, the more women are likely to work in professional jobs.
So the key question is: What propels progressive views of women's rights among men in the Arab world? The data show that men's views of sharia law have no correlation with whether they support women's equality -- and that this support is predicated on far more pragmatic factors. In a report to be published this summer, Gallup analysts found that across the Arab world, men's support for women's equal legal status and right to hold any job was positively linked to high male employment, life satisfaction, and other measures of economic and social development, such as education and the country's score on the U.N. Human Development Index. This suggests that economic trouble is a greater threat to women's rights than public support for religious legislation -- not as sexy a conclusion, but a far more actionable one.
I trust Eltahawy cares as much as I do about the injustices perpetrated against women in the Middle East. She's not our adversary. Those who beat and rape women, or let those who do so get away with it, are the enemy. But conflating women's rights advocacy with Arab self-hate or Islam-bashing doesn't empower the champions of change -- it aids their enemies and alienates Arab men from the cause of women's advancement. Any solution toward greater gender justice should embrace -- not eliminate -- indigenous cultural and religious frameworks that grant women the rights they desire and deserve.
Executive Director and Senior Analyst
Gallup Center for Muslim Studies