Sunday , 25 February 2024
Home / Featured Articles / Let our girls join our army: Egypt’s aspiring military women

Let our girls join our army: Egypt’s aspiring military women

“We have given up our feminine clothes for the military uniform,” read two large banners held up by a group of 15 young women outside Cairo University.

“Listen to me: I’m not awra,” they chant (awra refers to the parts of the body that must be covered according to Islam). “I carried the revolution on my shoulders … Our president, our president, let our girls join our army.”

The women are members of the Moganada Masriya (Female Egyptian Conscript) campaign, and are making one of their first public appearances. Some have donned camouflage pants and combat boots with a camouflage-print cap mounted atop high buns covered in beige-colored headscarves.

They may not all have looked the part, but they were all calling for the same thing: to allow women to join the Armed Forces.

The campaign was first born out of the military frenzy that accompanied the July 3, 2013 toppling of former President Mohamed Morsi under the leadership of then-Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. But it has recently picked up steam again as group members intensify their efforts and continue to garner support from state institutions.

“The events of June 30 [2013] fueled all of us,” says member Shahd Hussein.

Similarly, her colleague Shahinaz Gamal explains that “the recent events are the biggest motivator. Our lives are for Egypt, and we are all hoping for martyrdom.”

Love for the country and the military is also the main motive for campaign founder Jihad al-Komy, though she also cites frustration with the gender segregation that excludes her and other women from the frontlines.

Komy is a serious-looking young woman in her early 20s with long, uncovered black hair, unlike the majority of the campaign’s members, who wear a red veil to complement their white shirts and black pants in public in order to represent the Egyptian flag. Komy, however, just sticks to the black and white.

Moganada Masirya members rallying for female conscription
Moganada Masirya members rally for female conscription in the colors of the Egyptian flag (Courtesy Moganada Masriya Facebook page)

“The reason for founding the campaign was out of my love for the nation and my deep belonging to the military,” she says. “I have always hoped to earn the honor of conscription from when I was young.”

Komy believes that women need to join the fight. “The current circumstances are the biggest motivation for conscription, especially in light of terrorist groups using women in their terrorist operations. The same way there are male terrorists, there are also female terrorists, and therefore there should be female conscripts.”

But there is also some gender equality logic in the campaign.

Komy does not understand why she is unable to fulfill her long-life dream, even though several other countries around the world allow women to enlist.

“The Egyptian woman has proven herself throughout history — from the days of the Prophet until the French occupation,” she argues.

Hussein, who has been a member for six months, also says that it has been her lifelong dream to join the military. “I was so happy to learn of this campaign, and it was the happiest day of my life when I joined the campaign. I felt as though the dream and the goal is so near,” she explains.

Gamal even attempted to apply for a position in the army, but was turned down, she says, as the institution only accepts women from fields such as nursing, nutrition and psychology.

The campaign has enjoyed initial support from various state institutions.

For one, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb called on the group’s leader in Gharbiya to join him on a tour of the governorate, Komy says.

This is the second time the prime minister has reached out to the campaign. In February, a small number of members were invited to meet with Mehleb, then-Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim and Armed Forces Recruitment Director Mohie al-Din Abdel Alim, according to the group’s members.

Moganada Masriya members meet with government officials
Moganada Masriya members meet with government officials (Courtesy Moganada Masriya Facebook page)

The meeting was arranged by orders of the president himself after he had received several letters from the campaign, whose ultimate goal is to meet with their idol, Sisi. Even before his ascent to the presidency, he repeatedly sought to express his special regard for the women of Egypt.

According to Komy, so far the group has only accomplished 70 percent of its goals by meeting with government officials and getting their support, but it has yet to organize a sit-down with Sisi himself. However, she emphasizes that Mehleb has reassured her that the Moganada Masriya file is on the president’s desk.

The campaign also recently received an endorsement from the National Council for Women. Council head Mervat al-Talawy announced on May 15 that she supports the movement, and is working toward helping its members achieve their goal of joining the military.

Thanks to publicity on its Facebook page as well as public outreach, the campaign has obtained 20,000 signatures on a petition to allow for female conscripts, to allow women in the military to receive weapons training, and to establish military academies for women who are interested in core military positions. The campaign is also in the process of negotiating a protocal with the Education Ministry to allow for it to organize awareness-raising campagins.

“Our next step is to expand our awareness campaigns and our activities on the streets,” Komy explains.

But despite the state’s endorsement, the campaign has had its fair share of haters from conservatives, which has forced the issue of marginalized gender dynamics into the conversation.

According to campaign member Hussein, the group often receives insults taunting them with sexist statements, such as, “Do you even go into the kitchen for you to go into the army?” or, “If you get stung by a bee, you whine about it for two months.”

Hussein says that these messages have even escalated to death threats, particularly against the group’s founder. Komy says she receives threats against her and her family, and has had her phone number and address shared publicly.

One thread on the campaign’s Facebook group has a first lieutenant from the Armed Forces arguing that the military should remain for men only, accusing the campaign of trying to ruin the country.

A campaign member fired back by saying that men often dread their military conscription, and hope for any excuse to be exempt — therefore, women are more worthy. The comment points to the numerous violations Egyptian conscripts face during their service, which have been cited by many soldiers — but these injustices are overlooked by the enthusiastic women of the campaign.

Dalia Abdel Hameed, a gender and women’s rights officer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), poses a different kind of critique to the campaign. She finds their desire to enlist paradoxical, given the rise of gender-based violence alongside the increased militarization of the country. She also points to the gendered violence practiced by the military institution, such as thevirginity tests conducted on female protesters in March 2011.

And more broadly, “the majority of military organizations are male-dominated and patriarchal, and encourage violence, which are all anti-feminist values,” Abdel Hameed asserts. Hence, it is “frightening” that a large group of women are calling for the conscription of female soldiers, rather than calling to put an end to forced conscription in general, she argues.

“There is a direction among feminists for demilitarization,” Abdel Hameed adds.

But despite these criticisms, Komy remains optimistic, declaring, “Once they see a female conscript, they will be proud of her.”

 

By Passant Rabie

Detect language
Afrikaans
Albanian
Arabic
Armenian
Azerbaijani
Basque
Bengali
Belarusian
Bulgarian
Catalan
Chinese (Simp)
Chinese (Trad)
Croatian
Czech
Danish
Dutch
English
Esperanto
Estonian
Filipino
Finnish
French
Galician
Georgian
German
Greek
Gujarati
Haitian Creole
Hebrew
Hindi
Hungarian
Icelandic
Indonesian
Irish
Italian
Japanese
Kannada
Korean
Lao
Latin
Latvian
Lithuanian
Macedonian
Malay
Maltese
Norwegian
Persian
Polish
Portuguese
Romanian
Russian
Serbian
Slovak
Slovenian
Spanish
Swahili
Swedish
Tamil
Telugu
Thai
Turkish
Ukrainian
Urdu
Vietnamese
Welsh
Yiddish
Afrikaans
Albanian
Arabic
Armenian
Azerbaijani
Basque
Bengali
Belarusian
Bulgarian
Catalan
Chinese (Simp)
Chinese (Trad)
Croatian
Czech
Danish
Dutch
English
Esperanto
Estonian
Filipino
Finnish
French
Galician
Georgian
German
Greek
Gujarati
Haitian Creole
Hebrew
Hindi
Hungarian
Icelandic
Indonesian
Irish
Italian
Japanese
Kannada
Korean
Lao
Latin
Latvian
Lithuanian
Macedonian
Malay
Maltese
Norwegian
Persian
Polish
Portuguese
Romanian
Russian
Serbian
Slovak
Slovenian
Spanish
Swahili
Swedish
Tamil
Telugu
Thai
Turkish
Ukrainian
Urdu
Vietnamese
Welsh
Yiddish
Text-to-speech function is limited to 100 characters

Check Also

Egypt warns of security, humanitarian repercussions of ground operations in Gaza

Egypt has raised alarm over the gravity as well as the unprecedented humanitarian and security …