I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic
This evening’s bit of leftie tourism took me to the Resistance Centre on Swanston Street, one of the network of bookshop/infocentre/meeting venues, associated with Socialist Alliance, to be found around Australia. The meeting title was Women of the Revolution – on women’s role in the recent MENA uprisings. The advertised speakers were Jiselle Hanna (of whom more in a moment) and Sonia Abdessalem, a Tunisian activist who was taken sick and replaced with a Yemeni woman activist introduced only as Iman, who spoke briefly and reasonably interestingly about the pressures on women in modern Yemen (and noted that these had been less in the south before reunification in the early 90s).
Jiselle Hanna’s talk was the mainstay of the evening, and she’s an excellent speaker. Although the meeting format seem to have been laid out as your standard ‘experts up the front – audience listens and then asks questions’, she made a concerted effort to break it down a bit, asking the room for shows of hands or calls out on questions around how the Egyptian revolution had been portrayed and reported, and then explaining the concept of a ‘safe space’ to mention potentially difficult and delicate ideas and concepts around how people perceive Middle Eastern women. She then gave a clear, concise, well-structured presentation of the situation according to her analysis, clearly pointing out when something she said referred back to an earlier item or when she would clarify and item later. I suspect that her role at Australia-Asia Worker Links has given her that sense of democracy and participation that many people who actually work on the ground with working people, especially those in vulnerable positions, seem to have.
Amongst the points she made were:
– the commonplace (worth repeating) that despite the euphoria of seeing Mubarak go, the process is far from done – I saw someone else a few days ago put this in terms of the baby having been born – now we have to bring it up! Hanna compared this – usefully, but probably more so for an Australian than a European audience – with the falls of Suharto in Indonesia and Marcos in the Philippines, both cases where the fall of the figurehead of an oppressive regime was greeted with joy, but little changed for ordinary people. Mubarak’s departure had, she said, had the unfortunate effect of lessening the impetus of the protests when the job was only partly done;
– that many of the attacks, sexual or not, that happened on women protesters at Tahrir Square and the surrounding demonstrations were by the security forces, and that one of the things Egyptian women activists were doing was sending round instructions to women planning to join the demos advising them to wear double sets of clothes, including headscarves if hijab was important to them, because the top layers may well be pulled off by police as a means of intimidation;
– that when a new trade union federation was announced in Tahrir Square on January 30th, rejecting the role of the ‘yellow’ unions, two of the four founding unions were in industries dominated by women, and that senior women trade union activists were key in putting together the new federation.
Sadly, after this the usual curse of so many meetings struck, with the questions being allowed to go on for much too long, and the absence of a much-needed reminder that Q&As are supposed to involve questions, not long riffs on people’s personal response to the talk. What started out as an interesting and energising event rapidly lost its oomph – it’s never a good sign when you find yourself glad you’re ill (and in a painful and undignified way we needn’t go into here) because it gives you an excuse to bail. However, it never got anywhere near as bad as Mr Irving’s treatment at the hands of climate ‘guru’ David Spratt, which sounds so bad it’s funny. Although not for him, obviously.