We would suggest, as many have, that oppression is about men and women. The fate of women in the Arab world cannot be extracted from the fate of men in the Arab world, and vice versa. El Tahawy’s article conjures an elaborate battle of the sexes where men and women are on opposing teams, rather than understanding that together men and women must fight patriarchal systems in addition to exploitative practices of capitalism, authoritarianism, colonialism, liberalism, religion, and/or secularism.
Indeed, Mubarak’s authoritarian regime did not use the woman’s body alone as a site of its policies of repression and torture. El Tahawy cites Bouazizi several times as the spark of revolution in the Arab world. But she forgets Khalid Said, whose face—tortured and mangled beyond recognition—became an icon of the revolution. El Tahawy overlooks this shared experience of the body as a site of humiliation and pain. She does not see what Ahdaf Soueif powerfully explained: “As the tortured face of Khaled Said broke any credibility the ministry of the interior might have had, so the young woman in the blue jeans has destroyed the military’s reputation.” Indeed, the hatred of the people, women and men, has been a, if not the, unifying characteristic of colonial, neo-colonial, and authoritarian rulers in the Middle East and beyond.
In her sloppy indictment of Arabs, Muslims, authoritarian rulers, and Islamists, El Tahawy has papered over some messy issues that complicate her underlying message: liberalism is the solution. Why is female genital mutilation practiced widely in Egypt? Because men hate women. Why can’t women drive in Saudi Arabia? Because men hate women. Why are men and women against raising the age of consent in Yemen? Because men hate women. Hatred is a one size fits all answer. The use of hatred in this way is important. Hatred is irrational. It is a state or emotion. As Wendy Brown reminds us, such emotional or affective states are understood to be outside of, or unwelcome in, liberalism.