EGYPT: Women and Terrorism

How Women Should Counterterrorism

For a long time, counterterrorism has been seen as an exclusively male domain in which men are more suited to fight violence and extremism, however, many studies show that women (especially mothers) can be crucial in detecting and eventually preventing radicalism. Mothers are instrumental in all societies, and are highly respected in the Middle East; nevertheless, the problem is that women are not aware of their own power. The traditional role assigned to them in many societies is that of wife, mother, and nurturer; they have the power to be upholders of social, cultural, and religious values. Many women do not realize the great impact that this has on future generations, they have the power to either transmit ideas that can glorify martyrdom and terrorism, or can be powerful preventers of radicalism and encourage tolerance and non-violent political and civil engagement.

Women can be a particularly effective voice as they are at the heart of their families and communities; even if women appear to be not empowered in certain communities, they have emotional influence within their immediate families and sometimes even within their community as a whole. Furthermore, women and mothers in particular, have the ability to recognize early warning signs of radicalism in their children or husbands. It is extremely important that women do not ignore these signs because they do have the capacity to spot and influence changes in their children’s behavior.

The power of women in counterterrorism has been recognized all over the world and is now reflected in the Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2000, which asserts the importance of women’s role in peace-building, prevention and resolution of conflicts, and urges states to include women in all decision-making processes regarding prevention and conflict resolutions. This was the first time that women’s rights during armed conflicts were emphasized, as it became evident that using violence and raping women is widely used as a weapon in wars, and this was portrayed in the Rwandan Genocide, after thousands of Tutsi women were raped and killed just to achieve a political goal and terrorize the Tutsi community. The resolution’s sole purpose is to ensure the protection of women and children during armed conflicts and also recognize the importance of women’s role in peace-making. Moreover, the Security Council requested action plans from States that ensures women’s actual involvement and representation.

In a war on terrorism, and we are in a war indeed, women can play an incredible role in ending it. As central figures of every culture, they have a positive contribution to counterterrorism via their “traditional” and “lesser traditional” roles (Couture, 2014). In their traditional roles as wives, mothers, sisters, and care givers, where even mothers or wives of terrorists can speak out and tell how her son or husband’s actions have affected her negatively, and clarifying that there is nothing glorifying about killing innocents in the name of God. Her preaching may result in a change of heart in many radicals in which they see the damage that will be inflicted on their family due to their actions. Moreover, when spotting these signs of radicalism, a woman has the power to influence her son’s behavior by reaching out to him, addressing his fears and anger. A mother’s role is not limited to feeding her children and helping them with their homework, but it is also her duty to raise them to be independent and make their own decisions so that they are not easily influenced, but most importantly, to love their country and work for making it a better place. However, more often than not, the absence of a father affects the life of a would-be terrorist, and can make him reach out or perceive a leader of a terrorist group as a father figure and follow him blindly, so it is very important for mothers to look out for these signs and act upon them.

On the other hand, women in their less traditional role as teachers, politicians, and community leaders, can use their positions in spreading awareness on how to fight terrorism by encouraging the formation of support groups in the community in which mothers or wives can talk freely if they notice a radical change in the behavior of their family members without fear, and discuss how to handle the situation properly. When women communicate with others in the community and voice their concerns, it gives them a sense of confidence and power to address the issue more intently, which evidently empowers them. This way has been successful in many countries fighting terrorism, as some women are given a religious and political status and women confide to them when they feel that their son or husband is slipping away to terrorism.

Nevertheless, it is very important to also recognize women’s role in terrorism, and it is a much-unexplored issue as women are always seen as peaceful creatures. While women can and most certainly do take part in actually encouraging or participating in in terrorism, they are certainly in the minority (Couture, 2014).

Women as an Accessory to Terrorism

Although women are often seen as passive vessels, they can play multiple roles in terrorism. They do not have to be suicide bombers per se, but their support to terrorist groups can be in the form of being sympathizers, recruiters, or mobilizers (Fink et al, 2014). Women’s decision to join or support terrorist groups has nothing to do with their gender, and their reasons behind joining these groups are often the same as the men’s: grievance about socio-political conditions, the death of a loved one, or extreme commitment to religious or ideological belief. As an example of this, in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood are using women in violent protests, especially those that took place in universities all over Egypt, and a group of girls assaulted their dean and stripped her from her clothes. However, it is important to not that in many cases women are often coerced into participating in terrorist acts by their male family members (Fink et al, 2013), and being in patriarchal society means that is difficult to disobey and have to follow the orders.

So it all comes down to women acknowledging their power and worth. They have a considerable amount of power that if realized and used can certainly speed the process of ending terrorism, if used to promote tolerance and moderation through harnessing their political, social and religious influence in order to fight radicalism from its roots.

Moreover, it is also important for mothers to raise their children to be independent and express their ideas so that they are not easily influenced or brainwashed as many terrorist sadly are.

Women under the Muslim Brotherhood

The moment the Freedom and Justice party won majority seats in the parliament, women knew that their rights are on their way to vanishing. The Muslim Brotherhood’s degradation of women started in their election campaign. After a lot of international pressure on Mubarak, in 2007 he implemented laws that ban female genital mutilation (FGM). As a part of their electoral campaign, the Freedom and Justice party were offering subsidized medical services, and in Minya, these services included female circumcision for a nominal fee of 30 EGP, according to their flyers that were posted all over the village of Abou Aziz in Minya in 2012.

In parliament, the Muslim Brotherhood had objected to the criminalization of the practice under the Child Law passed in 2008, which imposes a prison penalty for whoever performs the operation of FGM. They also petitioned Egyptian Courts to lift the ban on it, however, in February 2013; the Egyptian High Constitutional Court rejected the attempt to annul the ban on FGM. Not to mention that they were defending FGM and tried to push for its decriminalization, under the premise that it is a matter that should be left to the personal choice of the girls’ guardians. This was referred to by the ousted President Muhammed Morsi as a “family matter”.

Furthermore, the Brotherhood tried to eliminate women’s thoughts and objections among the committee of the drafting of the constitution, in fact, they attempted to diminish rights as were once enjoyed under Mubarak by claiming these changes were in accordance with Shari’a Law. Firstly, the 64-seat quota for women’s representation in parliament under Mubarak was abolished, and the number of women in the first people’s assembly was only 9 out of 508. Secondly, they removed the only woman judge from the Supreme Court and they also refused to put women on the political party list of nominees. Thirdly, the new constitution ignored basic rights of women politically, socially, and economically. They called for decreasing the minimum age of marriage from 18 to 9 years, demolishing years of efforts by activists who called for rising the age from 16 to 18. Furthermore, Egyptians were shocked by the omission of a proposed clause banning the trafficking of women in the first draft of the constitution. Members of the committee argued that the omission was based on the non-existence of human trafficking in Egypt, and its mere mention “tarnishes Egypt’s image.” However, many international agencies refute their arguments as per a report by the U.S. State Department (2010), human trafficking exists at many levels in Egypt; in fact, it is a transit point of trafficking of African and Asian women and children who are coerced into prostitution (McGrath, 2012). Moreover, many of underage girls are sold by their parents to rich Gulf Arabs who come to Egypt looking for “summer brides”. Under Islamic law, these marriages are a form of human trafficking. The Muslim brotherhood also called for changing an important law that gave divorced women custody of their children until the age of 15 and allowed them to keep the family home for as long as they were raising children. They wanted to lower the age of mother custody from 15 to 7 and expressed their views that this law gives women an overstated right that contradicts Shari’a Law. A member of the panel declared, “The rights of women after divorce are exaggerated to the extent that they are unfair to men, sometimes destroying their lives…”  (Saleh, 2012).

Lastly and most importantly, their degradation of women was most reflected in their statement condemning the UN Commission on the Status of Women’s declaration entitled ‘End Violence against Women’ (2013). They claimed that this title is misleading and will only have detrimental effects on the Egyptian society as according to their statement, “The document includes articles that contradict established principles of Islam, undermine Islamic ethics and destroy the family, the basic building block of society, according to the Egyptian Constitution.” Moreover, they called for all Muslim countries to not ratify to the declaration as it would disintegrate the society and “would certainly be the final step in the intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries.” These statements shocked Egyptian women, as the declaration does nothing but ensure the women’s right to equality and prevent all forms of violence against her, which is a basic human right. A similar attitude by the Muslim brotherhood was shown when a member of the constitutional panel resigned and complained in a women’s conference about the dismissal of her proposal that called for the eradication of violence against women by the Islamist members claiming that it would limit a man’s license under Islamic law to use force to discipline a wife or a child. All of this portrays how the Muslim Brotherhood perceived women as sex objects and servants that have no rights what so ever, and their every claim is justified by their interpretation of Shari’a law. As a result, many men started acting upon their views and believed that women should be treated in the way that the Muslim Brotherhood advocated as it is in accordance with Islamic laws and it could only get worse from there. And in fact, the humiliation of women was not only in official matters, but also in their TV talk shows and newspaper, women were promoted as objects that are owned by their husbands and topics like “how to discipline your wives” were discussed.  As women felt their rights being taken away from them, they did not hesitate to take to the streets on June 30th to get rid of the government that had degraded them in every way possible. And indeed they played a vital role in the June 30th revolution and are more than ready to fight this terrorist group, and end terrorism in Egypt.

Women in Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)

The al-Qaeda affiliated group has treated women in the most barbaric way known to modern times. First of all, they issued a fatwa (religious verdict) that orders all girls and women between the ages of 11 and 46 to undergo FGM in and around Iraq’s northern city of Mosul, according to the United Nations. FGM is not a widespread practice in this area and one can imagine the horror of inflicting it upon the peoples of Mosul (Al-Arabiya, 2014). Secondly, their degradation of women continues in the form of selling enslaved women and girls. The Islamic State has imposed fixed prices on Yazidi and Christian women who have been captured by them, ranging from $40 for older women to $170 for young children. They declared that will not hesitate to execute any one who would violate controls that have been implemented: $43 is the price of women from 40 to 50 years old, $86 for those aged from 20 to 30, girls from 10 to 20 are sold for $129, and children till the age of 9 are sold for the highest price of $170 (Reuters, 2014).  Moreover, a recent video of a slave market published by the Islamic state shows ISIS militants negotiating the price of the girls from the Iraqi ethnic minority with traders. The footage begins with a militant saying, “Today is the slave market day… Today is distribution day God willing. Each one takes his share.” Another one laughs and keeps saying “Where is is my Yazidi girl?” they then find a seller and begin bargaining for girls. The trader says he is happy to sell his slave for a Glock pistol. “Whoever wants to sell his slave, whoever wants to give his slave as a present…everyone is free to do what he wants with his share,” says another bearded fighter, eager to obtain a slave girl of his own. In addition to another one saying that he would need to check the teeth of the 15-year-old being auctioned, and explains: “If she doesn’t have teeth, why would I want her?” As it is clear in this video that was published by the Islam State itself, that they are bragging about the enslavement of women and young girls seeing them a trophies from the spoils of war, just like ancient customs. Not to mention that they force parents to give up their girls to the militants as sex slaves because this is their “use”, and whoever does not comply gets punished.

Moreover, ISIS has imposed a certain dress code on women and banned women from walking in the streets without a husband, son, or any male family member. A woman who was captured by the ISIS’ women forces for roaming in the streets without a mehrem spoke out and shared her experience. “It was the most horrific moments that I have and will ever experience” Tahany Baroud said, after being captured and detained for going alone to a pharmacy not far away from her home; she was taken to their prison just like a criminal. On their way to the prison, she was cursed and beaten forcefully on her back, and she was not set free until her husband pledged that she will not leave her house alone ever again (ISIS: The Black Book, 2014). These all-female battalions are used by ISIS to terrorize the women even more. They recruit single women between the ages of 18 to 25 and pay them $150 per month (Winsor, 2014). Their sole mission is to ensure ISIS’s strict laws of individual conduct on women are implemented, if they are not, they are authorized to punish these women and even kill them. They also capture women, detain and punish them if they wear a “thin” veil or if their faces are revealed. This portrays the complete infringement of women’s basic rights and degradation imposed on women that live under ISIS; their status in the society is nothing but sex objects and servants who should never leave their house without a “master”. This will only result in the retardation of civilization, but then again, ISIS is the farthest thing from being civilized. The same humiliation of women occurs in Syria as well, as a photograph on the Internet shows a line of women, covered from head to toe, and tied to one another by a chain as they were lead to the slave market in an ISIS captured territory as seen in the picture below.


They also created marriage bureaus in captured Syrian towns in which virgins and widows are recruited to marry fighters, and they also called for the help of other Jihadists to recruit brides for the fighters and send them to Syria. It is evident that these women and girls do not consent to their marriage and are coerced into it, so this goes completely against the principles of Shari’a in which a bride’s consent is a must for the marriage to officiate, and that unmistakably shows the hypocrisy of the “Islamic” state.  They do not realize the intense harm and pain they are inflicting on women, in which raped women and girls who get pregnant are seen as “soiled goods” and are being ostracized from their community along with their illegitimate children. Not to mention that these raped women become targets of honor killings by their own families and communities (Esfandiari, 2014). In essence, ISIS, as a representative of other Muslim illegitimate terrorist groups, sees women as inferior beings, only to be used for sex, but completely disregarded as humans with rights equal to men. As any educated person knows, there is nothing in Islamic Shari’a law that condones the inhumane treatment of women, even when subjected to slavery.

When speaking of terrorism as a human rights issue, it is evident that the most affected and the most vulnerable are women; and that is indeed reflected in the United Nations declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflicts in 1974, which states that women and children are victims in armed conflicts due to suppression, aggression, colonialism, racism, alien domination and foreign subjugation, and prohibits attacking and/or bombing of civilians. It also requires countries to take measures to end persecution, torture, punitive measures, degrading treatment and violence, especially when they are targeted against women and children. Furthermore, it criminalizes inhumane treatment of women in the form of imprisonment, torture, shooting, mass arrests, collective punishment, destruction of dwellings, and forcible evictions. And lastly, The Declaration states that there are indisputable rights such as access to food, shelter, and medical care, that have to be provided for women and children in emergencies. Additionally, the eleventh session of the United Nations Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 1992, which was presided by Egypt, adopted General recommendation 19 that tackled the issue of violence against women. In article (1), it states that gender-based violence is a form of discrimination that prevents women to have equal rights and freedoms enjoyed by men. In article (6), it defines gender-based violence as “violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately. It includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.” This recommendation was the first time a human rights treaty or convention was officially interpreted to prohibit violence against women, and the recommendation made it clear that domestic violence was also included. However, the fact that up till now women still struggle to have what is considered as very basic human rights is a crime against humanity that should be directed to the International Court of Justice.

In conclusion, women need to be aware of their own power in putting an end to terrorism and act upon this power. And the Security Council affirmed this view in Resolution 1325, which specifically addresses the issue as a whole, from the protection of women in armed conflict and during wars, to the importance of the role that women play in the peace-making process and prevention of conflict. There is a very strong relationship between women and national security that has been emphasized by many conventions and treaties; and the sooner it is realized into the political system, the sooner terrorism will be defeated.

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