Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

The Role of Women in the Egyptian 25th January Revolution

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

The Role of Women in the Egyptian 25th January Revolution

Article excerpt


This article examines women's roles in the January 25th Revolution in Egypt. I examine portrayals of women's roles in the revolution in literary fiction released shortly after the revolution and in digital media. I argue that the fictional and even nonfictional texts are incomplete in their depiction of female roles. I further examine the representation of women's roles in digital media, specifically blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, and argue that digital social media give the most pervasive, extensive, and accurate description of women's roles in the revolution; it not only engages women politically, but it also provides a wide range of roles for female participation in the revolution.

Keywords: Revolution of 25 January, Women's rights, Digital media


The stories of women and revolutions have always intertwined, and the revolution of 2011 brought women in Egypt new opportunities and avenues for participation in social and political reform. From the start most women had been at the forefront of civil resistance, which took virtual and real forms. Their fight for democracy and a secular society sprang from the social and political oppression they had witnessed for decades. The key role women played in the revolution may have shaken the social power structure and deconstructed master narratives about the Arab woman.

However, that key role was downplayed in the literature, specifically the fiction that was released shortly after the revolution. I argue that the digital media, unlike fiction, was inclusive in its representation of women's roles in the revolution; it allowed for the emergence of new, uncommon sensibilities, shapes, and actualities that brought to life not only new patterns and types of order but also new realities. In the future, such realities could change thought processes and practices for those who work with digital media and its chaotic system. For example, a message posted on a blog could bring about new realities that create change and affect the production of new norms. The dynamic and constantly changing system of posted messages establishes new meanings that could not have been predicted in advance; with every message it is possible that iteration could bring new meanings and new knowledge to life.

Aiming to contribute to the recognition of women's roles in the Revolution of 25 January, I examine how those roles are portrayed in two literary works, Fu ad Qandil's Milad fi al-Tahrir and Hisham al-Kashan's Saba't Ayiam fi al-Tah,rir, representative examples of the literature produced and widely advertised about the revolution, as well as in digital media, specifically Nadia Idle and Alex Nunns' Tweets from Tahrir. The former two works marginalize the gender configurations in the critical times before and during the revolution. This underrepresentation of women in the revolution harms the genesis of the revolution and its goals and ignores the political implication of women's reactions, restraining females within males' monolithic experience. Tweets from Tahrir, by contrast, accurately reflects the crucial revolutionary roles played by women.

My analysis of women's role in the revolution is guided by two main theoretical notions: Judith Butler's gender performativity and chaos theory's notion of the "butterfly effect."

Gender, Butler says, "proves to be performative--that is, constituting the identity which is purported to be. In this sense, gender is always a doing, though not a doing by a subject who might be said to preexist the deed" (Butler, 1999, p. 33). The perception of gender is regulated through its performativity, which relies heavily on the social anticipation of the subject and its identity. She criticizes this anticipation of gender, claiming that it does not allow for representations of the subject to extend to a wider sphere in which more possibilities could Occur:

   In the first instance, then, the performativity of gender revolves
   around this metalepsis, the way in which the anticipation of a
   gendered essence produces that which it posits as outside itself. … 
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