Rwanda Slaps Me in the Face and Grins

Two nights ago I watched a video posted by a friend on Facebook of three little Arab girls with solemn faces, cloaked in black, sitting stiffly on a couch and singing about the length of a girl’s skirt as protection from the eyes of young men, her careful, slow walk as the best cover of her body, and her hijab as the “ideal” crown on her head. The three young expressionless faces chanted on how happy that girl was that she’d covered her ‘awrah, her nakedness, her intimate parts, her whatever you may call it. There’s no actual word for it in English.

The following morning I woke up with bloated fingers, puffy eyes and half a brain (from pizza, not the video), browsed with one hand and held my coffee in the other when suddenly National Geographic informed me that, twenty years on after the genocide, women in Rwanda now have majority seats in the parliament, and that in fact by achieving that in 2008 Rwanda was the first country ever.

Now the expressionless face was mine.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m very happy and inspired that Rwanda is quickly getting up on its feet and seems to most definitely be on the right track. It’s just that the dichotomy hit me a bit hard since I clearly hadn’t had enough time to recover from that traumatic video of the night before.

This is not a post typically making unfounded comparisons or misinformed bla bla bla. It’s also not an attack on Islamic dress code as I don’t see the Islam that I know anywhere in that abusive video (and it would take a lot more space than this post for me to explain why). This is just a passing rant of a person once described by a close friend that she’d chosen to stay aboard a sinking ship.

I don’t know much about Rwanda, this article could be showing a very narrow side of things. It could be, of course, but it’s there and it can’t be based on nothing. There’s an Egyptian proverb that says “There’s no smoke without fire,” so surely this article must be based on something? How about the fact that women hold a majority of seats in the parliament?

According to National Geographic, that percentage of women is very small given that the majority live in rural areas with limited or no education. But that small percentage made it to the parliament, dammit! So those people have got to be doing something right.

And that’s Rwanda. You know what Rwanda was to a lot of Egyptians especially during the horrible days of the genocide? As much as there was widespread sympathy over what they were going through there was also racist jokes over the contamination of the Nile because of the dumping of the bodies in thousands. You see, we’re known among the Arab world to joke our troubles away and we’re known to be the most hilarious nation with unbeatable jokes, but that multitude of jokes also has an excess of ill-tasted, sometimes sick, punchlines that come out more as insults than innocent entertainment.

‘Cause that’s what we do. We slouch around in our own filth and love ourselves so much we think no nation can ever be greater and point fingers at other countries’ mishaps.

Rwanda is a proud example that a weak, recovering state does not have to be inefficient if it is smart. Because of its inability to penetrate it has empowered the local communities. Rwanda has something called “community-policing committees” which is a group of people empowered to help maintain law and order in their respective communities. Those people are actually trained by the police to prevent crimes and protect women and children from violence.

Our state is neither weak nor recovering. I’m going to forget about all the big words and just put it in couch and popcorn language. Our state has the force of a hurricane and it doesn’t hesitate to use it when angered. It’s also lazy, old, quite grumpy, and stupid. So in the early days of the January 25th uprising it acted “wounded” and “upset” and disappeared off the streets after driving over people and shooting a bunch of others in the chest and the head. It left us to fend for ourselves, so the closest we got to those police committees was of our own efforts. Residents of all neighborhoods created their own guarding units and took shifts protecting streets and property and even directing traffic.

As for the women, our notorious streets harassment record actually skyrocketed, so another version of these committees was created and continues to operate, a purely grassroots initiative to spot and prevent street harassment of women, either by helping the victim file a case against the aggressors or just shooing the fellows out of the way after giving them a good tongue lashing. Our problem, however, is that once these committees have caught the transgressors there’s a very fragile system to take them to in order to effectuate already existing anti-harassment laws. The overriding culture that it is essentially the woman’s fault clouds many of the officers’ judgment, and the woman often finds herself presented with narrow options and threatened to tarnish her own reputation if she wishes to proceed with the case. So our individual efforts to create a sense of security, accountability, and just simply some sanity in the public space go almost completely unsupported by the state.

And just like the rest of the Arab world, the misogynistic, hormone injected view of women continues to thrive and even gets passed on to generations as I have seen in the video, ruining every woman’s sense of self-worth as a human being before it even begins.

What is it about Rwanda that makes it so on the right track compared to Egypt? The country was reduced to ashes and yet somehow, miraculously, most of those in charge seem to be doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Or does it take a climactic, post-apocalyptic form of destruction like the one Rwanda witnessed for people to come back to their senses and start doing the right thing instead of wasting precious time loving themselves and hating each other? What is that force that keeps dragging us into this dung filled pit? What’s our secret, really?

 

Advertisements

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  1. #1 by nadiaelawady on April 7, 2014 - 12:41 pm

    This morning I received a tweet about Egypt achieving two new world records at the Powerlifting World Championships in Dubai. They were achieved by Sherif Othman, a paralympic champion. Another Egyptian, a young woman, Zeinab Oteify, came in fourth place in her category. She was the former world record holder in that category. The tweet was accompanied by a picture of her. She wore the hijab and had short sleeves on. She was raising her hands in what seemed as gratitude to God after finishing a lift. It was a heart-warming picture. I retweeted the tweet because I felt very proud of these two Egyptians’ achievements. My retweet was further retweeted several times by others. But there was one man who wrote a reply to me and to the original tweeter: “I keep seeing the strangest things. How ignorant and immature for her to wear a hijab and short sleeves. Is it to prove she is Muslim? I swear to God this is ridiculous,” he said. This is a woman with some sort of a disability who was able to overcome that disability and become a world record holder in weight lifting. She has achieved something absolutely amazing. Why would someone overlook that to focus on her short sleeves? It is so telling of what our country has come to. So telling.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. #2 by Reem Bakheet on April 8, 2014 - 6:48 am

    Dear, I think it is the individual .. We do not look inside and become a better person, we do not improve individually. We always look for others, we criticize , then what ??! Nothing .. No change happens
    I read a strong book “انا وأخواتها” لسلمان العودة اكثر من رائع وهو رحلة في أسرار الذات الانسانية
    Allah bless you my creative great writer

    Liked by 1 person

  3. #3 by Shaima on April 9, 2014 - 5:46 am

    Dichotomy and polarity is universal law, and without it we cant coexist, where there is divinity also there is evil, making peace with that make us perceive matters in many different ways, make us things more clearly and if we can make a change we will be able to take the appropriate action.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: