The pattern after the “Arab Spring” resembled very much the trajectory of the Iranian revolution, where liberal and progressive forces brought support and success to the uprisings but the better networked, resourced, and organized fundamentalist forces succeeded in taking over the governments. Women in Iran and in the Arab world sought progress, equality, and rights. The story is not finished yet. Regressive forces simply cannot sustain themselves over time in this stage of human development.
Women in Tunisia, Egypt and Lybia are facing a dangerous moment, says Mahnaz Afkhami. Those who have networks, resources, and a clear, concise and appealing public message are the conservative and conservative-religious forces.
It is a moment of urgency for women to be able to catch up in time while the fundamental structures underlying these countries' democratic development are being put in place.
Unfortunately, women are not present in these consults: they have not been included in these consults in most places.
Mahnaz Afkhami knows how tenuous women's rights can be and how fragile gains in status too often are. "Women's rights and democracy activists are seriously concerned that the [Ennahda] party will act differently once in power."
She saw a generation of advances rolled back in a short time in Iran, and testified this week about the role and potential of women in the Arab spring before a Senate Foreign Affairs subcommittee on democracy, human rights and women's issues.
"Egypt and Tunisia are prime examples of countries where progress towards women's equality may be undone without America's firm and increased commitment," Afkhami told the senators.
Despite the perception that strict Islamic law and feminism are incompatible, women's rights advocates argued (at the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Submcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women's Issues's hearing) that Muslim values could actually help women of the Arab Spring promote greater equality. Mahnaz Afkhami cautioned that while some Islamic countries have provided a more positive outlook, other examples, like Iran, give women reasons to worry.
"The grim truth is that women who are struggling to advance human rights and create secular, pluralistic, democratic societies, face grave challenges rooted in tradition and history. Traditional social and cultural norms have relegated Middle Eastern women and girls to a private space, and they often lack the social, economic, and political power they need to overcome antagonistic groups and regressive policy," Afkhami stated as a witness testifying at the hearing before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Operation and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women’s Issues and Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Central Asia Affairs spotlighting Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
Mahnaz Afkhami noted that women have largely been left out of the post-demonstration process despite playing a large role in the protests. She drew on lessons garnered from the Iranian Revolution in 1979 by noting that rhetoric of new leaders can quickly change, and that Arab societies must be prepared for such actions.