From Gezi Park to Bakirköy Women’s Prison, the struggle continues

In Ankara, a #standingwoman surfaces. She is standing in Kizilay Sq, where Ethem Sarisuluk was shot dead by the police.” Across Turkey, individuals are standing, facing, moving while perfectly still. #duranadam. It means, “standing man.”

Revolutions change our language. How many around the world knew of Tahrir before the Egyptian uprisings? Now, we all do. It’s a gift Egyptians have given to the world.

The democracy and social movements across Turkey have given us Gezi, Taksim, and now #duranadam. This is part of the inherent creativity of people in movement.

The State has responded with predictable, moribund redundancies. First, it tried to criminalize the protesters. Then it claimed they were foreign agents. Then it tried to claim they were only a dissident, spoiled fringe minority. This is textbook `Statecraft’ at its emptiest.

Then the State sent in the police, to `clear’ the parks, to `reclaim’ the commons in the name of `the people’. Familiar, no?

Today’s news is filled with the predictable: “Turkey arrests dozens in crackdown”; “scores detained”; “dozens detained.”

Behind the `niceties’ of detention and arrest stands the prison. Turkish prisons are notorious for their human rights violations and abysmal conditions. On October 20, 2000, Turkey “gave” to the world the longest and deadliest hunger strike in modern history. Across Turkey, for three years, prisoners fasted, and died, protesting the construction of F-Type prisons, which are basically supermax. Across Turkey, women prisoners went on hunger strike, `even though’ women prisoners weren’t sent to F-Type prisons. In Turkey, solidarity is not a new phenomenon. Neither is standing, seemingly alone and yet decidedly with others.

Since then, hunger strikes, by prisoners and others, have become a regular part of the Turkish political landscape. Last September 60 or so Kurdish prisoners went on hunger strike. By the end of the strike, close to 70 days later, close to 700 prisoners had joined the strike, plus untold others across the country and even around the world.

At the same time, sexual violence, rape, and torture also form a part of the Turkish political landscape that emerges from and returns to prison. Women, like Hamdiye Aslan and Asiye Zeybek, have reported on the extreme and continuous violence they suffered. For more than a decade, national and international groups have documented this. Little to nothing has changed.

Some things have changed. In 2002, there were 55,000 people in Turkish prisons and jails. In early May, there were more than 130,000. Health care in the prisons has gone from bad to criminally worse, as acknowledged recently by none other than Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In October 2011, Ayşe Berktay, writer, translator, peace and justice activist, pro-Kurdish activist, was arrested. She’s still in prison, two years later. In December 2011, Berktay wrote from Bakirköy Women’s Prison: “The situation here is rather critical. Feeling ever more powerful with the support he is getting from `Western powers’ as a representative of so-called `Western ideals of democracy and freedom’ in the region, Erdoğan has turned his back on—or done away with—all semblance of democracy at home and is preparing to intervene actively in the region. Your action is valuable in the sense that it exposes the true nature of the Erdoğan government…He feeds on this `democratic prestige’ he has abroad to take harsher measures against democratic opposition at home. Such prestige makes his hand stronger against opposition in the country. Anyone who does not agree or go along with his way of solving the problem is a terrorist, an enemy—familiar, no?”

Familiar, no?

This morning, Rumeysa Kiger, a journalist who had been part of the delegation that met with Erdoğan last week, was arrested. According to her husband, she was on the way to an interview when she saw police arresting protesters. She went to object and was herself arrested. Familiar, no?

As Berktay concluded, two years ago, “Protests against this anti-democratic obstruction of political struggle and the arbitrary nature of the detentions, against arbitrary detentions to obstruct political struggle and democratic opposition, are very important. They need to know that the world knows and follows.”

One man standing. One woman standing. Thousands of women and men standing, in prisons, parks, squares, and streets. Extraordinary, no?

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.ayresmendevrim.com/2013/07/dunyadan-ve-turkiyeden-duranadam.html)

Tahrir meant liberation. It still does. Ask the women

In 2011, the women of Egypt pushed Hosni Mubarak out of power. One of those women was Sanaa El-Seif, who at the time was 17 years old. She moved to Tahrir Square, with friends. With a fellow classmate, Ziad Tareq, she created a space in which to produce a regular newspaper, for distribution in and beyond Tahrir Square. In so doing, Sanaa El-Seif pulled together and then retied all sorts of insurgent and revolutionary trains: feminist organizing cultures, women’s organizing cultures, youth organizing cultures. Centuries of revolutionary broadsheets, reading clubs, manifestoes, samizdat, night schools, you name it, came together in the work of Sanaa El-Seif.

Mubarak left office. The world media, by and large, left Tahrir Square, except for those regular moments of implosion, and Sanaa El-Seif stayed. She stayed as so many women have, to push the revolution forward, to materialize real transformation in Egypt now.

Sanaa El-Seif, now 19, says it simply and directly: Staying matters. This is not about disputes between exiles and those who stayed in whatever site. It is about staying with the energies of change, staying with the promises of building autonomous transformative spaces, communities, nation, and worlds.

Today is January 25, 2012, two years later. Two years is a short time and an impossibly long one as well. Many debate today the progress and the reversals of `Egypt’ since Tahrir Square became, for a short while, the center of a universe.

Two years ago, Tahrir meant liberation. It still does. Ask the women.

In the last year, women have assessed the situation on the ground and have organized, and continue to organize. A national women’s movement is slowly but decidedly taking place, at times quite publically, at other times in the shadows. But the point is that it’s a national women’s movement, one that was in many ways impossible prior to 2011 because of the State ideological and surveillance apparatuses.

Women whose names gained prominence in the 2011 Tahrir manifestations are still there, today, in the marches and protests. Women like Mona Seif, co-founder of the No To Military Trials For Civilians campaign. Seif has been challenging the military at every step, and, even more, has been challenging and attacking the militarization of civil society, of State, of intimate spaces, of everything. That challenge to militarization emerges from and returns to decades of Egyptian women and feminist thinkers and activists, such as Doria Shafik and, of course, Nawal el Saadawi.

Every day women including Nehad Abul Komsan, director of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights; union activist organizer and leader Abir Ibrahim; Mozn Hassan, Director of Nazra Center for Feminist Studies; women’s rights activists Yara Sallam and Asmaa Gomaa; `revolutionary-turned-activist’ Nada Wahid; women graffiti artists Aya Tarek and Hend Kheera; and anti-violence organizer Eba’a El-Tamami work to create new spaces, new publics, for women, for autonomy, for freedom and power, for dreaming and doing.

Someone recently described the `Woman in the Blue Brassiere’ as “all too actual, real, and bodily, not just a symbol, but a flesh-and-blood human being who becomes virtual and goes viral, returning within a few days to haunt the real space of Tahrir Square as the banner of the Egyptian women’s movement.”

She does not haunt. She stays. The work of the revolution stays as it moves forward and expands, under the banner of the Egyptian women’s movement. Tahrir means liberation. Ask the women.

 

(Video Credit: YouTube.com)

Women do not haunt the State. They occupy it.

 


Around the world, women are taking to the streets in great numbers, to protest, to take charge, to transform. In the past couple weeks, women have led and populated mass protests and marches in Malawi, Uganda, Lebanon, Argentina, Romania, Chile, Haiti. Women have occupied Wall Street, Nigeria, and beyond.

Women have been the bearers, in every sense, of Spring … in Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain. Today, January 25, women are returning to Tahrir Square … and to every square in Egypt. This is nothing new for northern Africa. Women, such as Aminatou Haidar, have born `spring’ in Western Sahara now for decades.

For women, the street does not end at the sidewalk. It runs, often directly, into the State offices.

Women are everywhere on the move, changing the face and form of State.

In Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returned to her office today, after a 21-day health related absence, to resume her activities as President. On Thursday, January 5, Portia Simpson Miller was inaugurated, for the second time, as Prime Minister of Jamaica. On Monday, January 16, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was inaugurated to her second term, of six years, as President of Liberia.

These are precisely not historic stories or events, and that’s the point. Women in positions of State power are women in positions of State power. Not novelties nor exotic nor, most importantly, exceptions. That is the hope.

But for now, that struggle continues.

In Colombia, women, such as Esmeralda Arboleda, helped organize the Union of Colombian Women, fought for women’s rights and power, and was the first woman elected as a Senator to the national Congress. That was July, 1958. Fifty or so years later, in January 2012, women in Chile launched “Mas mujeres al poder”, “More women in power”.  In tactics, strategies and cultural actions, Mas mujeres al poder builds on the work of student activists in the streets. Women are saying enough, women are saying the time is now, and women are pushing their way through the electoral process, with or without the political parties, into the provincial and national legislatures.

Meanwhile, in Bolivia, Gabriela Montaño was named President of the Senate and Rebeca Delgado was named President of the House of Representatives. Women are everywhere … and on the move.

On Tuesday, January 10, voters in Minnesota, in the United States, elected Susan Allen to the state legislature. Allen is the first American Indian woman to serve in that body. She is a single mother, and she is lesbian. Many firsts accrue to her election.

Across Europe, Black women are struggling and entering into legislative bodies with greater and greater success: Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen, originally from Martinique,  in Norway; Nyamko Sabuni, originally from the DRC, in Sweden; Mercedes Lourdes Frias, originally from the Dominican Republic, in Italy. The struggle continues … into the national and regional legislatures, into the political structures, into the cultures of power as well as recognition.

Across the African continent, women are on the move. In Kenya, women, such as Charity Ngilu, are set to make their marks in the upcoming elections … and beyond. Meanwhile, South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is running, hard, for the Chairpersonship of the African Union Commission. She would be the first woman in that post, and some say she would be the most powerful woman in Africa.

And in South Korea, four women, Park Geun-hye, Han Myeong-sook, Lee Jung-hee and Sim Sang-jung lead the three major political parties. Together, their three parties control 262 seats of the National Assembly’s 299.

This barely covers the news from the past three weeks. Everywhere, women are cracking patriarchy’s hold on and of power, in the streets, in the State legislatures, in the political structures. Today, and tomorrow, women do not haunt the State. They occupy it.

 

(Photo Credit: BeBlogerra)

Women indignadas carry Tahrir Square and Spring, and occupy prison

Occupy, along with Indignados and Spring, is spreading, to new places, and so takes different, local and yet global forms.

In Nigeria this week, in response to fuel prices and, even more, to astronomical unemployment and crushing hopelessness among young people, protests, and more, have punctuated the landscape. Occupy Nigeria. Labor unions, women’s groups, farmers’ groups and others have joined, and to a certain extent followed, the lead of their younger comrades. In Kano, for example, the youth have established what they call “Tahrir Square”. Elsewhere, some say that an “Arab Spring” is coming to Sudan, to Zimbabwe, to a theater of engagement near you.

In Haiti, as in Chile as in the United Kingdom as in Spain, students are protesting the inequality of education and the crushing hopelessness it produces. As various forces attempt to privatize a university opening in Limonade, the students of the University of Haiti, l’Université d’Etat d’Haïti, have declared themselves indignés. Indignados.

We are all, or almost all, moving towards our own Tahrir Square; we are all, or almost all, indignés, indignados. Language, concepts, actions not only exceed the borders they cross, they redefine notions of nationhood, identity. Or such is the dream and hope. Indignados articulate with Zapatistas articulate with Arab Spring and Tahrir Square articulate with indigenous movements and keep sending out new feelers, new shoots, new threads that somehow link new and old into something possible, something happening right now.

And so in northern Venezuela this week, 800 women and 150 children occupied the Yare prison complex. They came to visit their loved ones, who suffer overcrowding and overly long waits for trials, as so many do in so many prisons around the world.  Then, they simply refused to leave. They `self-kidnapped.’ They invaded and occupied the prison space with their indignation.

950 women and children looked at armed guards and said, “Nope, we’re not moving.” They invented Spring, the beginning of a kind of liberation.

You want to know what this Spring could mean? Ask the many immigrant women in US immigrant detention centers, women like Julie, who are told they have no right to legal representation, no right to due process, because, well, they’re not in `prison’. They’re in `detention.’ And so they sit, watched, and often sexually harassed and worse, by guards. Most of the detention centers are privately owned. Profit flows from the time women, mostly women of color, sit and wait.

Many of the women live with mental health illnesses. Actually, many are in crisis. Many of the women struggle with the consequences and scars of domestic violence. Many of the women know they are in `detention’ because their English `failed’ them, and because, though they lived in neighborhoods in which English was a second language, somehow the police only spoke English. Who’s failing whom here?

This week, the young women and men of Nigeria have urged us to occupy and liberate public policy. The young women and men of Haiti have urged us to occupy and liberate education. And the young women and children of Venezuela have called on us to occupy prison.

Occupy prison. We have been occupied by the global prison for far too long. Follow the lead of the women and children of Venezuela. Occupy prison. It’s time.

 

(Photo Credit: Fernando Llano/AP)

Thank you to the women of Egypt

A court in Egypt ruled yesterday, December 27, 2011, that imposing `virginity tests’ on women prisoners in military prisons is wrong and unconstitutional. The court is expected to further decide that such tests are completely illegal, which would open the possibility of financial compensation for the wrongs committed.

This is one of two cases filed by Samira Ibrahim and Maha Mohamed, two of the women who had been subjected to the test. The other, equally important case challenges the referral of prisoners to a military court.

The court’s decision was a great one. The greater act, however, was that of Samira Ibrahim, Maha Mohamed, Salwa al-Hosseini and all the women across Egypt who have organized, pushed, repelled attacks, and kept on keeping on. When they have been attacked, they have said, publically, “I tell female activists go to the square and don’t be afraid, this is our square.” And then, they have gone to the square, to all the squares and all the streets.

Women pushed Mubarak out of office, and women today are pushing at more than the military. Egyptian women are pushing at patriarchy itself.

Much of the focus of the last day has been on Samira Ibrahim, a woman who refused to stay silent, refused to submit, refused to behave. While Samira Ibrahim is indeed a courageous and feminist woman, she is not “the woman” behind the ban nor is she “one brave woman.” Rather Samira Ibrahim is one of the women, one of the brave women, who have opposed the assaults on women and continue to do so.

At the beginning of the year, when the women of Egypt pushed Mubarak out, the world watched, and shared and cherished, their names. Today, as the year closes and the women of Egypt assault the very foundations of State patriarchy, we again remind ourselves that behind every individually named women – such as Ghada Kamal Abdel Khaleq, Sanaa Youssef, Samira Ibrahim, Maha Mohamed, Salwa al-Hosseini, Mona Eltahawy, Mona Seif – and behind every named women’s organization, such as Nazra for Feminist Studies or the New Woman Foundation, there is a world of women, on the march.

They know the military, they know the violence, they know the patriarchy, and they reject them, one and all. The women of Egypt are neither surprised nor daunted when a military prosecutor condemns the end to `virginity tests.’ They are, instead, in the streets, affirming their womanhood and their humanity, “I will not give up my rights as a woman or as a human being.”

So, as the year ends, let’s say, as Samira Ibrahim did after she heard the verdict, “Thank you to the people, thank you to Tahrir Square that taught me to challenge, thank you to the revolution that taught me perseverance.” Thank you to the women of Egypt.

 

(Photo Credit: ElMundo.es/AFP)

Mubarak did not step down today. He was pushed … by the women of Egypt

Mona Seif

February 11, 2011. The news media say that Hosni Mubarak stepped down today. They say he has resigned.

Hosni Mubarak did not step down today, and he did not resign. He was pushed. He was pushed by a mass of people, he was pushed by a convergence of sectors and forces, from students to workers to the unemployed to the working poor to the middle class to doctors to truck drivers to everyone. Hosni Mubarak did not step down. He was pushed … by women the women of Egypt.

Mubarak was pushed by women writers, novelists, poets, bloggers, such as Shahira Amin, Nawal El Saadawi, Yasmine El Rashidi, Mona Helmy, Ahdaf Soueif, Zeinobia, and Dalia Ziada.

Mubarak was pushed by women filmmakers and video makers, such as Asmaa Mahfouz, Jehane Noujaim, and Tahani Rached.

Mubarak was pushed by women doctors, such as Aida Seif El Dawla and Sally Moore.

Mubarak was pushed by women performance artists, such as Karima Mansour.

Mubarak was pushed by women who came as partners, wives, mothers, daughters, such as the mother of Khaled Said, her son beaten to death last year by police in Alexandria; Doaa Abdulla, who awakened her husband and said we must go to the protests; and Elham Eidarous, who alternated nights in Tahrir Square with her husband.

Mubarak was pushed by women human rights activists, women’s rights activists, and pro-democracy activists, such as Mona El Seif, Mozn Hassan, Nehad Abul Komsan, Selma al-Tarzi, Sonda Shabaik, and Ghada Shahbandar.

Mubarak was pushed by women whose names are only partly known, such as Asma, Ghada, Mona, Mariam, and Rania.

Mubarak was pushed. The categories don’t matter. The filmmakers are students, the writers are doctors, the activists are dancers. The elders are youthful, the youth are wise. The names are signatures of millions of women and girls, and men and boys, who have filled the streets and the skies, who have seized the day and the night. Liberation is possible, revolution is possible, hope is material, dreams are material.

Hosni Mubarak did not step down today. He did not resign. He was pushed … by the women of Egypt.

 

(Photo Credit: Al Jazeera)

Tahrir Means Liberation

Today, Saturday, February 5, 2011, the eyes of the world are on Egypt. According to Al Jazeera’s most recent report, the protesters in Tahrir Square are standing their ground, consolidating their gains, and organizing further. Ten thousand pro-democracy protesters showed up outside the main train station in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, as well.

Tahrir means liberation. The people in Tahrir Square have said they will stay until liberation. The people in Tahrir Square are teaching the world a new lesson, the lesson of liberation now and liberation to come. Ask the women of Tahrir Square, ask the youth, ask the workers, ask … everyone.

Another word emerged this week with stunning ease and fluidity: thugs. And a phrase: Mubarak’s thugs.

Yesterday, for example, in a one-hour international news of the week roundup, the National Journal’s Defense Correspondent Yochi Dreazen referred to “pro-Mubarak thugs”, and no one batted an eye, not the NPR host nor the reporters from MBC, the Middle East Broadcasting Center, and from the Washington Post, respectively.

Al Jazeera today reports: “On Friday, Al Jazeera’s offices in Cairo were attacked by “gangs of thugs”, according to a statement from the network. The office was burned, along with the equipment inside it.”

From Tahrir Square itself, Egyptian activists Mona El Seif and Selma Al-Tarzi offer a more detailed picture of thugs. According to El Seif, “We have caught a lot of the thugs….We have searched them. Most of them were one of two things. Either they had police IDs on them …or they were unemployed people that were promised either jobs or money….We know this. We know this since every demo we went to. They always plant thugs and pretend—let them pretend to be civilians, so they can start the violence. I just never saw this amount of violence, this publicly displayed, and nobody stopping it.”

Al-Tarzi added, “The Mubarak thugs were shooting at us with the machine guns. The army shot back at them. Two of them were killed. One of us was killed….More are coming. And we are so tired. People are so tired. We’ve been fighting for the past 12 hours. And we’re just protesters; we’re civilians. We’re protesters.…All we have is stones and sticks. And we’re tired. This is not what we’re here to do. This is not—this is not how—this is a crime of war. They’re killing us.”

Mozn Hassan, Director of Nazra for Feminist Studies, tells a similar story: “If the military is ever to be a legitimate national force, it must side with the protesters against Mubarak’s thugs and the police.… It is crucial at this moment in the Egyptian Uprising to understand that this is the Egyptian Army’s moment of truth. As the thousands of unarmed demonstrators are tortured, trampled, firebombed and molested by Mubarak’s thugs, will the military move to protect, or to crush the non-violent democratic movements that have occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo for the last ten days.”

Who are the thugs? They are the police, the are the security forces, they are the baltaguia, “plainclothes thugs from the state security services and gang members on their payroll.” And they are everywhere: Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor. And they are everywhere all the time: protests, labor strikes, elections. They are the body politic of `security’. When it is reported, or rumored, that 90 percent of the `thugs’ caught in Tahrir Square had identity cards linking them to the police, state and Central Security forces, the only surprise was that they were actually carrying the cards. They are the State.

A State that relies on thugs for security, for stability, for well being, for its identity as a nation-State is a thug state. It is a rogue, whose gender “remains generally, as it was originally, masculine”, who knows only the reason of the strongest and the practice of fear: “those who inspire fear frighten themselves, they conjure the very specter they represent. The conjuration is in mourning for itself and turns its own force against itself.”

Tahrir means liberation. The protesters in Tahrir Square, such as Mona El Seif and Selma Al-Tarzi, they are living a form of liberation now, today. Liberation haunts the thugs and the thug states.

 

(Photo Credit: https://revolutionaryfrontlines.wordpress.com)