In the Shadow of the State: Gender Contestation and Legal Mobilization in the Context of the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia

Ahmed Zaki, Hind. 2018. "In the Shadow of the State: Gender Contestation and Legal Mobilization in the Context of the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia"

Gender issues emerged in various forms as part of uprisings that swept the Arab world starting from 2011. However, little attention has been paid to the differences among various countries of women's mobilization during and after the Arab Spring. The differences between Tunisia and Egypt, two of the central countries in the uprisings of 2011, have been stark in the ways women mobilized for action. In Tunisia, women's claims were principally channeled through the formal institutions of the state-a top-down process. In Egypt, in contrast, women went outside the standard institutions of the state to voice more radical demands-a bottom-up approach. My project asks why such different forms of women's contestation developed in these two states? I argue that the distinct history and legacy of state feminism in each country was key in the development of novel rights claims on the part of the women's rights activists after the revolutions.

Furthermore, this research project argues his that it is often the multiple identities that women develop because of their involvement in politics, as new forms of subject formation, that act as critical symbolic resources in rights-based campaigns. In addition, this manuscript develops an argument on why and how mobilization occurs in contexts where states are direct perpetrators of gender-based violence. I argue such mobilization could lead to one of two possible outcomes: movements either turn to top-down approaches that seek to secure formal wins, or movements employ extra-institutional politics to push forward more radical claims of rights. I argue that the former happened in Tunisia where activists made strong political appeals to the state and developed a collective past legacy of state feminism. This, in turn, made it difficult to hold the state accountable for its violations. In contrast, and because of the ambiguous nature of state feminism in Egypt, the movement against gender-based violence was able to challenge the state hegemonic discourses within a much more repressive political context by employing extra-institutional tactics.

The broader implications of these findings question the assumption that democratic transition, transitional justice, and gender justice go hand in hand. Furthermore, the findings show how addressing violation committed by state agents through strictly technical channels could further perpetuate hegemonic understandings of the state's prerogative powers over its citizens.

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