Men and Women

By Ali Ibrahim

One of the striking features that distinguishes the Arab World is that - 
contrary to what is supposed to happen - the authorities or governing bodies 
are more willing and desirous of taking steps towards modernization with 
regards to social issues, while the genuine [social] powers or pressure groups 
in society are against taking such steps. In most cases these groups make 
claims that this government or that is bowing to Western pressure or is seeking 
to polish its image. In most cases, such confrontations end with the government 
or the concerned authority retreating and choosing to take the safe path rather 
than initiating direct confrontation. This results in a lack of development or 
modernization, especially with regards to women. 

An example of this is the battle to appoint female judges to the Egyptian State 
Council, which is a judicial body that settles administrative disputes. This 
was taken to the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court; this case saw the 
governmental side trying to push through female judges' acceptance to the 
council, with the majority of council judges being against this decision. This 
can be seen in that an overwhelming majority of 334 of the council's 380 member 
General Assembly voted against this during a meeting held a few weeks ago. 

Amidst the pretexts provided by those objecting to the decision, and which 
seemed like a national battle against an invasion [by women], included many 
arguments that disparaged women's capabilities. It is strange and unbelievable 
that such arguments can be put forth today in the 21st century. Without going 
into details, those who made such arguments need to reflect on the implications 
of this, especially if such arguments are made by the [social] elites, or 
reflect a strong current or trend in society. 

A closer examination of the implications of this is required because there is a 
genuine need to understand this phenomenon and how to resolve it, and also 
because a government cannot ignore the way that that the public, the 
electorate, and the social elites think. This is because - rule - in the end is 
a social contract between the government and the people, and this does not 
exempt the government from the responsibility of finding a way to lead society 
towards modernization and to correct social misconceptions, even if such 
misconceptions represent a public trend. The aim of this is to catch up with 
the rest of the world otherwise the only alternative is [social] breakdown and 
following the path of the Taliban in Afghanistan. 

Any decisions or laws, no matter how strong, are nothing more than decoration 
in the absence of public opinion engaging with it, and can soon be reversed. An 
example of this is the issue of women running for elections and standing for 
parliament, this is something that takes place in the Arab world only through a 
quota system with a number of parliamentary seats being designated specifically 
for female candidates. 

This raises the question of the role of Arab governments in educating and 
enlightening the public, including shaping and mobilizing public opinion to 
support and understand the need for modernization. Of course the best way to do 
this is to modernize education, as there can be no progress without good 
education. This is the source of the current problem with regards to many 
outdated ideas that are enthusiastically promoted by their advocates.

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