Egyptians are recovering their freedom after long periods of living without it. Immense joy resulting from this is accompanied by no less immense challenges. Among these challenges are understanding what freedoms we are reclaiming and knowing what freedoms we were deprived of for so many years. The answers to these questions may sound obvious, and some of them are. Some of them however, are anything but obvious.
Break an old elephant's chain and he will remain in his place.
Shaking old habits can be a tall order. Egyptians have lived under a certain paradigm for many years. This paradigm is that of an authoritative, patriarchal leader. A leader who could do no wrong, who was not to be questioned, under penalty of punishment. A leader whose abuses always had some kind of a good justification.
Unbeknownst to themselves, many Egyptian men have learned to reproduce this paradigm at their level. This is not to say they were as abusive as the regime, or that they bore their family or surroundings any ill intentions. They just did what humans do best: they adapted to their environment. Most did so with the best intentions, and worked hard to feed their families and helped themselves and those around them to survive.
As Egyptian men, they were figures of authority in their environments, bowing only to other male figures of authority. They made the rules, and women did not. The law came from men. Big decisions came from men. Selective use of aspects of culture and religion served as powerful safeguards against any challenge to this state of affairs. A man was entitled, even duty-bound to be the law or to represent it. This role involved living with certain pressures, but these brought with them a certain sense of entitlement. One that may not be easy to let go of. One that may stand in the way of change.
So in a way, men have become enslaved to their own "privileges". It is clear then, that embracing significant change may involve far more than overthrowing a dictator. It may involve deep soul-searching and facing questions we have not been taught to face. As they became part of the system, as they inadvertently became part of the paradigm's enforcement arm, there were freedoms men forgot they didn't have.
Women, on the other hand, suffer no such impediment to raising the appropriate questions that significant change requires (they may face others, however.) They have been used to living by laws they played no role in formulating. To watching testosterone-based nonsense bring ridiculous situations about in their every day lives (it hurts to write this!) To suffering acts of disrespect on a daily basis, be it gratuitously in the street, or only moderately less gratuitously when prodded to get back in line after demonstrating independent thought. They have been aware all along of the freedoms they didn't have, and by extension, the freedoms we were all deprived of.
Today, women demanding their rights unavoidably raise questions that concern not only their freedoms, but all of our freedoms. They do so naturally, unhindered by some of the chains men carry in their minds. To suppress their voice is to give up some of our own freedoms. What they have to contribute will benefit all Egyptians, men and women alike.
I have often heard in recent days that women are a part of this revolution alongside the men. I would say that they not only stand side by side with the men, but in certain ways, they will even lead.