In Which Mona Eltahawy Moderates a Muslim Feminist Revolution

(Warning: I’m spending the next few mini-paragraphs talking about the “Twitter angle” of all this because of an ongoing fascination I have with social media as a site for minority protest. If you’d rather fast-forward to the important stuff, skip ahead to the Tweets.)

Dear CF,

What follows is more or less a transcript of a conversation happening on Twitter between several Muslim women (and some men) on feminist Islam. It covers a lot of things on its extraordinary way—the condition of women in Saudi Arabia, the fact that Khadija (the first wife of Muhammed) rode her own camel without his permission, how the mutawa (religious police) stopped seventeen schoolgirls from escaping a fire, and later, the fact that Saudi journalists (female) Amal Zahid and Amira Kashgari were recently banned from writing for an Arab newspaper after signing a petition for reform.

It’s a series of anecdotes, laments and frustrations (Eltahawy calls her contributions rants) that slowly build from the impotency the word “rant” suggests into something a lot more defined, targeted, and, well, revolutionary.

There’s by definition nothing I can add to this discussion, but because Twitter is a transient medium, I thought it was essential to archive at least some of what’s happening there tonight. This is one of the most important conversations I’ve ever witnessed. It is an intense and humbling privilege to see it happening in real time. As with the #MooreandMe campaign, there’s a plurality of voices building something. I’ve never seen a revolution gather force in real time from the layering of voices; it’s the kind of thing you think about, dream about, but never really hope to see. But that might be what’s happening here.

Egypt has proven that a collective and headless revolution is possible. For all the talk about social media and how it’s a tool-not-agent (all of which is right and true), one of its most astounding effects is that it democratizes a revolutionary platform that would ordinarily demand a leader who crafts and delivers a message. In other words, Twitter does away—to a tremendous extent—with the need for leadership as representation. The medium allows people to represent themselves.

That’s not to say that this movement is leaderless—Eltahawy is a leader; no one could doubt that, and I’m sure there are others. But Twitter makes it possible for her to also be a conduit. There isn’t much repackaging she does here; not much shaping of a message or campaign. What one sees instead is a discussion that’s giving rise—organically, if that can responsibly be said of something computer-driven—to something. I don’t know what, but it’s BIG.

(I’d suggest, by the way, that what Eltahawy does here—listening, reproducing and amplifying other voices, and building momentum into the discussion from time to time as if she were tending a fire—is “real” leadership, or perhaps the “New Leadership,” as opposed to the grandstanding we’ve come to think of as the sine qua non of, for example, politicians. Eltahawy might be one of the first true leaders of the Internet age. Others include Asmaa Mahfouz and Wael Ghonim.)

After all we’ve written and thought about “selfish” and “unselfish” feminism, about the problems posed by Qaddafi’s female guards and the uneasy relationship between Middle East and West, it’s an honor to witness how Muslim women are talking not to the West (that’s a fraught interaction) but to each other about their vision for the future and—maybe as importantly—their vision of the past.

Almost all of the Tweets that follow are from the formidable and tireless Mona Eltahawy’s Twitter Feed. Please bear with the choppiness of the conversation and retweets; the story that’s told here and dwelling in the gaps is a hell of a lot more powerful than the one I could tell by smoothing and explaining (to the limited extent I even could).

It was hard to know where to start and end, but I’m choosing this Tweet as the opening salvo that opened up a remarkable exchange across the Twitterverse:




10 Responses to In Which Mona Eltahawy Moderates a Muslim Feminist Revolution

  1. biryanilady says:

    I am mixed about this post. On the one hand, it is a valuable exchange, one whose positions I fully support. On the other hand, I feel funny about the framing of it as something new and ‘extraordinary’. It is passionate, and committed, and thoughtful, and clear: but it is also not necessarily ‘new’. Muslim feminists have put forth these very same critiques for years. Decades, even. Generations older than Mona E. Not to mention many many of her age cohorts. It is, perhaps, new for you to see, and it is perhaps happening in a new medium (Twitter), but the content and the feminism of Muslim women… that’s been an ongoing conversation. Perhaps it is the recent political events which have brought this more clearly into view for you?

    • Millicent says:

      Hi biryanilady—I think that’s absolutely right, that Twitter (and recent events) is making that conversation visible to me and to others watching. Again, what seems noteworthy about this conversation (to me) isn’t so much that the content of the ideas is new—I’m sure Muslim women have been having this conversation with each other for centuries! Far be it from me to make a claim for the novelty of these thoughts. Rather, it’s 1) on a purely personal level, that people like me are granted the privilege of hearing it and 2) that Twitter allows a lot of those people to talk to each other in a fast and efficient way that seems to be accreting and gathering momentum.

      There’s a tendency in the West to believe that whatever we see is new by virtue of *our* not having seen it previously. I absolutely take that point, and I hope I’m not perpetuating that mistake. What strikes me, as an outsider, and someone interested in how Twitter has been a useful instrument for feminism in the West, is watching it be a useful instrument for feminism elsewhere.

      • biryanilady says:

        so much feminist ground to cover – there is much to say but am pressed for time. did however want to make sure you are aware of what is happening in Tahrir Sq. on Int’l Women’s Day, as it is chronicles on Twitter:

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  3. Michaele Scott says:

    Have enjoyed this discussion so much. I am excited for you all even as I watch so much of my own country (USA) sliding backwards. Peace and love to you ~ Michaele

    (and remember: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”)…;o)

  4. Amany Nosseir says:

    I am moslem educated proud to be egyptian (and happy being a Neoquebeker/Canadian since 21 years….. I believe strongly in the beauty of islam and the morals of all religions… i know well my rights as a women in Islam… (Freedom, education, financial independance etc).. Lots of moslem chauvenist man/women, as well as haters of Islam hate my guts when i reply to them with verses of the coran about MY RIGHTS and/or provide instances and examples of first moslem women fight against ignorance and abuses of Jahelieya (ignorant) arabs before islam , which unfortunately many are practised in nowadays moslem nation out of tradition and not true islam….. Actually, as much as i know my obligations toward my husband i know very well his obligations towards me and i ask for them. respect between me and him is premordial. I love dogs and have two 🙂 … . I pray, fast, do my zakat, just did my haj el hamdouleh too…..I am not veiled and i am not against veiled women as long as it is THEIR own choice. I contributed to the well being of my family and society by working since 25 years. I educate my two boys (21 and 25) to be respectfull to their girlfriends/ women – to love her and contribute in her well being by giving her space and respect if they are expecting same from her. I cant see how a man can control my thoughts, my outings, my choices if God has provided this freedom to me. It is OUR mistake as women not to defend our rights and stand for them in solidarity. I am with you ladies.

  5. Qasim says:

    Mona Eltahawy’s “feminism” is actually colonial feminism. She also supports Zionism. Where does she stand on Palestinian women’s rights to return to their homes stolen in 1948? See:


    A Tale of Three Nations: Freedom, Religion and the Rights of Women

    I think the American women should take a look @ their OWN situation. What happened to the ERA? Are we going to allow foreign women to make strides while we do not?

    I thought this was a great and even fun read. But as many muslim woman have said to me in recent weeks – what are YOU guys gonna DO with your pharoahesses like Hillary, Condileeeeeeeeza Rice and so on?

    Have any of you looked @Obama’s budget to see what covert havoc it will wreck on women? It is nearly as bad the Republican proposed budget with its OVERT attacks on women.


  7. uprisingworld says:

    Your obsession with Mona Eltahawy is so premature. If she doesn’t share your creepy opinion on Israel then her feminism is colonialism? Who the hell are you to decide what’s best feminism and what’s not. Your paternilazation is not far away from colonialism mind.

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