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After The Revolution, Arab Women Seek More Rights

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After The Revolution, Arab Women Seek More Rights

After The Revolution, Arab Women Seek More Rights

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

Women have risked their lives on the front lines of the revolutions that have remade much of the Arab world - protesting, marching, blogging and tweeting, and sometimes dying. Many women are asking if this is leading them any closer to real equality with men. And some express concern that Islamist movements could gain strength and set back women's rights. Sheera Frenkel spoke with women throughout the region and has this report.

(SOUNDBITE OF VOICES)

SHEERA FRENKEL: At the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's port city of Alexandria, May Kamel is in the midst of a verbal confrontation. The 23-year-old, who calls herself a feminist activist, is arguing with Sobhi Saleh, a senior member of the Islamist group, on the topic of women's rights.

SOBHI SALEH: (Foreign language spoken)

FRENKEL: He tells her that in the new Egypt, she will find a devout religious life - one where she will wear traditional modest clothing and live according to values espoused in the Koran. She picks at her thin T-shirt with fingernails that she's painted jet black and says she is disappointed. Like women across the Arab world, Kamel is waiting to see how the changes sweeping the region will affect her.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS)

FRENKEL: Just a few months earlier Kamel joined protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS)

FRENKEL: She says that the vision of men and women protesting together stood out as a pivotal moment in her mind.

MAY KAMEL: Well, I think the youth that were in Tahrir, you know, they're OK with the concept of women and men having equal rights.

FRENKEL: In Egypt, Kamel pointed to a protest that took place on March 8th, International Women's Day. The female protesters were attacked by a group of men.

KAMEL: It got physically abusive after a while, like, the protest actually didn't last, like, for even, like, an hour. And it was just like just completely disgraceful and embarrassing.

FRENKEL: The 27-year-old, who blogs under the moniker A Tunisian Girl, met me at a trendy sidewalk cafe just a few yards from the spot where protesters gathered in early January to demand the fall of a regime. Ben Mhenni says that not everyone was happy about the co-ed protest movement. The good thing is that both men and women took part in this march. But there were groups who shout your place is in the kitchen, you don't have to ask for more rights.

FRENKEL: But Ben Mhenni and other Tunisian women fear those rights could be in jeopardy if Islamist parties gain power in the upcoming elections.

BLOGGER: Before January 14th we were asking for more rights, now we are trying to preserve the rights we already have.

FRENKEL: In Jordan's capital, Amman, journalist Leila Hammerney talked about the challenges facing young women activists across the region.

LEILA HAMMERNEY: It's going to be difficult from now on, but the whole idea is that we're going to fight back, capitalizing on all our experiences. We're going to keep to build more alliances among women.

FRENKEL: For NPR News, I'm Sheera Frenkel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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