Feminisms and Democratic Transitions: The Arab Spring in Comparative Perspective

Valentine M. Moghadam
Professor of Sociology and Director, International Affairs Program
Northeastern University
Boston, MA 02115 USA

Is democracy always and everywhere good for women? Where is the Arab Spring headed, and what are the prospects for a women-friendly democratic consolidation?

Women in the Middle East and North Africa have long experienced gender inequalities in the domains of family, employment, and political participation, and women’s rights groups have focused their energies on ending such inequalities.  The collapse of authoritarian governments in the wake of the Arab Spring initially raised hopes of the emergence of new democracies premised on robust conceptions of citizen rights, including those of women. The new Islamic parties, it was argued by many scholars, had shed their old militancy and dogmatism and would participate constructively in the forging of new polities.  Others were more skeptical of the willingness of Islamist parties to share power and adhere to norms and practices of social inclusion, to address pressing economic issues, and to accede to women’s demands for participation and rights.  In addition, questions could be raised not only about the capacity of Arab countries to consolidate democracy but about the kind of democracy that would emerge.  Three years on, developments have been rocky and uneven. As of January 2014, Egypt remains polarized and suffers from violent clashes, while Tunisia has overcome the difficulties of 2012-13 to finalize a secular constitution that codifies women’s rights.

The presentation will survey experiences of “third wave” pro-democracy movements and democratic transitions in terms of their alignment with feminist values and goals. It will then focus on Tunisia, Egypt, and Morocco – countries that initially had relatively nonviolent protests for democracy and change – to examine similarities and differences across the three cases and offer a framework for a model of democracy inclusive of women’s full citizenship and gender equality.

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