Read the full transcript of Head to Head - Do Arab men hate women? below:


Part one

Mehdi Hasan (VO): How bad is life for women in the Arab world? There's no doubt the region is far from being a model of gender equality. But are critics too eager to brand Arab women as helpless victims? My guest tonight sparked outrage when she wrote an article saying the root of the problem is that Arab men hate women.

I'm Mehdi Hasan and I've come here to the Oxford Union to go head to head with journalist, activist, feminist Mona Eltahawy, and challenge her on whether her rhetoric is helping or hurting the cause of women's rights in the Middle East.

Tonight I'll be joined by a panel of three experts at the Oxford Union chamber: Dr Aitemad Muhanna from the London School of Economics Middle Eastern Centre; and Taj Hargey, a progressive imam based in Oxford and Dr Shuruq Naguib, who teaches Islamic and Gender Studies at Lancaster University.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mona Eltahawy.

Mehdi Hasan (VO): A committed feminist for over 20 years, she's perhaps the most provocative voice out there on the issue of misogyny and the Middle East.

Mehdi Hasan: Thanks for coming.

Mona Eltahawy: Hi, hi everyone.

Mehdi Hasan: Mona, is your view that there is a war being waged on women in the Arab world?

Mona Eltahawy: Absolutely, Mehdi. I mean when 12-year-old girls are dying giving childbirth in Yemen, when 91 percent of Egyptian girls and women have had their genitals mutilated, when 16-year-old girls in Morocco are forced to marry their rapists so that their rapist can escape conviction, that is nothing short of a war.

Mehdi Hasan: So who is waging the war, in your view?

Mona Eltahawy: Well, I think it's a misogynist society. I think, and this is why I made the point in my essay, or asked the question, and some people have, have told me, you haven't answered it, but perhaps we can answer it today, 'cause it's my contention that there is a hatred for Arab women. There is a hatred for women in the Middle East and North Africa that plays out in these horrific statistics that we hear.

Mehdi Hasan: Most people would agree that the status of women's rights in the Arab world is pretty abysmal right now. But when you say that men, quote, hate women, some might say to focus on that feeling is a cop out, because it enables you not to have a much more complex discussion about, say, poverty, tyranny, ignorance, lack of education. You gloss over all that and say it's them versus us. It's men versus women, it's hate.

Mona Eltahawy: Well, when you look at the countries in the Middle East and North Africa or, just for simplicity's sake, the 22 countries of the Arab League…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Yes.

Mona Eltahawy: Some of them are as rich as, say, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, Saudi Arabia and some of them are as poor as Yemen and Somalia. The thing that unites the Middle East and North Africa, or the Arabic speaking countries of that region, is this hatred for women that plays out differently. So whether you're incredibly rich or you're incredibly educated, or you're incredibly poor and not educated, you're still suffering as a woman.

Mehdi Hasan: It's interesting you talk about the unity, of the 22 members of the Arab League, I mean…

Mona Eltahawy: That's the one thing…

Mehdi Hasan: I mean, well, it's interesting, because that is another criticism that's been raised and that you've had to deal with, is that you treat the Arab world as monolithic. You treat Arabs as homogenous, as all the same. You say Saudi Arabia is a misogynistic country. Morocco, you might say, is a misogynistic country. But, of course, the driving ban is only in Saudi Arabia and no other Arab country bans women from driving. No other country in the world, in the world, I believe, bans women from driving. It's a Saudi specific issue, and yet you're holding it up as an example of Arab misogyny.

Mona Eltahawy: It's basically the guardianship system, not just the driving ban. But I don't gloss over the differences, because what I do is, I expressed in the essay, and in later interviews, the various ways that the misogyny plays out. So I'm not saying - I mean there is -  It would be ridiculous to suggest that Saudi Arabia's exactly like Yemen, but what does unify them, again - I mean if you look at, for example, the World Economic Forum publishes annually the Global Gender Gap Index, where they look at things like education and political opportunity and all of that. They list 136 countries and 14 of the Arab League countries are in the bottom, the bottom 36 of that 136. These are not my figures, I did not make this up.

Mehdi Hasan: Newsweek did a league table of countries, and they found of the 25 worst countries to live in the world as a woman, there were two Arab countries in there. Now, no one's glossing over what's wrong. As I said, we both agree, the situation is not great, but you imply that it's somehow worse in the Arab world than anywhere else, rather than in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia. Let's take one example, let's take one example. Female circumcision, or female genital mutilation, FGM, which is something you, we, I think we both agree we would abhor that practice…

Mona Eltahawy: [INTERRUPTING]: Yes, absolutely.

Mehdi Hasan: It's a practice that needs to be stopped. Most scholars say it's more of an African practice than it is an Arab practice. Again, you hold it up as Exhibit B or Exhibit C of your Arab misogyny.

Mona Eltahawy: I think we're…

Mehdi Hasan: It's not fair to all of the Arabs who don't practise it, who abhor it.

Mona Eltahawy: No, of course not. But that, again that's why I've given different examples …

Mehdi Hasan: That's a generalisation, Mona.

Mona Eltahawy: No, it's not a generalisation. I've said each country has a problem with women's rights. Overall the region is very bad and, as I said, according to that Index, it's usually at the bottom when you talk about the global gender gap. But I've given that as an example from Egypt. It also is, happens in Sudan. It happens in Djibouti, it happens in Yemen. It happens in several countries. By no means have I said this is a specifically Arab thing.

Mehdi Hasan: Okay, there is something that unites the countries in the Middle East, that is behind some of this, and that's political oppression. It's repression, it's a lack of democracy, it's despotism. The issue is that dictatorships oppress everyone, men and women. It's not a woman-specific issue. Mohammed Bouazizi, the Tunisian man, who set himself on fire, which ignited the Arab Spring, he did so after he was slapped in the face by a police officer, who was a woman …

Mona Eltahawy: [INTERRUPTING] By a woman, yes.

Mehdi Hasan: So, you know, when you look at the Egyptian protesters, who lost their lives protesting, it's not about gender per se, it's about the lack of freedom, which then affects the role of gender, and woman's rights, et cetera. The bigger issue is the lack of democracy.

Mona Eltahawy: Right. I am so glad that, that you said that, because that, it, we actually agree on this. But I take it a step further, because, none of those revolutions that began in the Middle East and North Africa were about gender, they were about repression. They were about facing that regime, and that regime oppresses everybody. But here's the difference, here's why, or how, that revolution impacted women differently than men. The women in Tahrir Square, or the women in the various squares, whether they were in Yemen or in Bahrain or in Tunisia or Libya or Syria, when they looked that dictator in the eye, and they managed to get rid of Ben Ali, Mubarak, etcetera.

They then looked, you know, to the light, to the right and to the left, and they realised that, if the regime oppressed us all, our society oppresses us, as women - and this is where our double-revolution comes in. So what we've done, basically, is we, we started to tackle that political revolution that, you say rightly, oppresses everybody, but where we, as women, recognise we have to go now - and without going that way our political revolutions will fail - is that we need a social and a sexual revolution, that looks to the, to the right and to the left, and says, you oppress me, specifically.

Mehdi Hasan: Foreign Policy boasts on its website that its main selling point is: more than 18,000 influential people on, in the Washington DC area, read it, cover to cover, in The White House on Capitol Hill, the State Department and The Pentagon. Why did you write your essay, that caused such controversy, in Foreign Policy magazine? A magazine aimed at the US foreign policy elite?

Mona Eltahawy: No Arab magazine would have run that essay. I used to write a weekly column, for two years, for Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper… wait, wait, let me finish, let me finish. The Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Saudi-owned paper, they banned me. They banned me because my views were too liberal. So, no Arab magazine would've published it. But, number two, howcome so many people in the Arab world got so upset? That means that they read it, right? Foreign Policy magazine, and a whole bunch of other magazines, they run every week essays that critique human rights violations, economic corruption, all kinds of ills, from the Arab world, and nobody gets this critique.

But when it comes to women's issues, this bizarre cultural relativism kicks in, where our regimes, and I said this in my essay, our regimes put on this attitude of, hands off, these are our women, this is untouchable, it's none of your business. What I would like to see, when we talk about ethical foreign policies, I would like to see all these regimes that support our dictators, first of all, stop supporting our dictators, but, but, but, this is a big but, do not give them aid, not just for human rights violations, but for gender rights violations too.

And I mentioned Hilary Clinton specifically, to mention, or to point out the hypocrisy, because when she was Secretary of State, she made a big deal about being a feminist Secretary of State. But when she would go to Saudi Arabia, she would never sit down and say to the Saudis - or one of the biggest allies of the US - you treat your women like children, and I will not have that, and be a big ally to you. But, of course, it's hypocrisy. it's about oil.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Mona, one of the reasons, one of the reasons, one of the many reasons why people objected to the Foreign Policy piece, of course, was the cover, which I've brought here.

Mona Eltahawy: Yes, yes.

Mehdi Hasan: And I don't know how many of you can see it in the audience, or at home? Er…

Mona Eltahawy: [INTERRUPTING] And there's pictures inside too.

Mehdi Hasan: This is the cover, and there's pictures and a whole load of photos here. This is a naked woman, who has a niqab, basically a face veil, a veil, painted on her in black. It upset a lot of people. It's, some would say, it's pretty offensive, it plays to all sorts of traditional, Western, Orientalist, crude stereotypes of helpless Arab women.

Mona Eltahawy: So many people got so obsessed with this, that, you know what I said in the end: "I don't care. And if it upsets you, that's even better." Because it makes people ask, what are the images that we have of Muslim women out there? And, are we focusing on just the image, or the substance behind the image?

Mehdi Hasan: Another question that's often asked is, why single out Arabs? You mentioned the league tables and discrimination, but of course there are other countries on those league tables.

Mona Eltahawy: [INTERRUPTING] Yes.

Mehdi Hasan: And even Western countries, you would, of course, agree, are not…

Mona Eltahawy: Why? Because. Because I'm an Arab.

Mehdi Hasan: You're also an American. On average…

Mona Eltahawy: [INTERRUPTING] Yes.

Mehdi Hasan: …three women every day are killed by their spouse or partner. When will you be writing a piece in Foreign Policy magazine, saying why they hate us, about American Christian white men?

Mona Eltahawy: Two things: When I go on US TV, I go on and I make it very clear that the kind of men on the religious right in the United States, and the kind of men on the religious right in the Middle East and North Africa, that I fight, are both the same. And I basically say that they, they're all obsessed with our vaginas, as women. [LAUGHTER] And that's a message that resonates. And that message resonates because we have, I've witnessed…

Mehdi Hasan [INTERRUPTING]: You say it's a message that resonates and yet you wrote a famous article, and the book, only about Arabs, not about those American white men.

Mona Eltahawy [INTERRUPTING]: Because, because right now, the issue, the issue for me, my obsession is the revolutions that have begun. And as I told you, our political revolutions will fail, unless we have social and sexual revolutions that push them into the home. I'm not talking about a revolution in the US right now. I'm talking about Egypt and the rest of the region.

Mehdi Hasan: Okay, let's got to our panel, who are waiting here to give their take on what they're listening to. Dr Shuruq Naguib is a lecturer at Lancaster University Center for Gender and Women's Studies. She's one of Britain's experts on Islam and feminism. Do you recognise this picture of the region, the revolutions and their consequences, that Mona is painting?

Shuruq Naguib: I do agree with you, that you have the right to look Arab society in the face and say, you are misogynistic. But, do you see yourself as also having the right to speak for all Arab women? And talk about we are having to mount, or start, a revolution against sexual and political discrimination in society.

Mona Eltahawy: I feel that I'm very privileged in that, you know, I'm educated, I work, I write, I travel freely, and I believe that privilege obliges me to fight 10 times as hard as someone who doesn't have that privilege. If somebody can't speak, for whatever reason. You know, when I was attacked in Egypt, 12 other women were assaulted on the same street where I was assaulted, but none of them have been able to speak, for various reasons. Some have been silenced by their families. Some of them are too ashamed to speak. And, as a society, we do not encourage women to speak out about violence, or sexual assault, especially. When those 12 other women cannot speak, for whatever reason, and I can, it behoves me. It's my, I'm obliged to speak, very, very loud because I understand they can't speak.

Mehdi Hasan: I want to bring in Dr Taj Hargey who is the chairman of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford. He's a self-described progressive imam. Dr Hargey, what's your reaction to what you're hearing from Mona?

Taj Hargey: I think we should stop obsessing about the title: "Why they hate us?" I think a better term would have been, "Why do they oppress us?" Where has this oppression and suppression come from? It didn't come from a vacuum. It came from the misinterpretation of religious edicts, and so forth. That's where it's come from, and that's why it's such a huge problem for the Arab world, for the Muslim world. And, yes, it may be happening in Papua New Guinea, or Burkina Faso, wherever, but that's not the issue, here. The issue here is this lady speaks, I think, on behalf of a certain segment of Arab society, and she's entitled to say these things.

Mehdi Hasan: Dr Aitemad Muhanna, what's your reaction to what Dr Hargey's saying?

Aitemad Muhanna: I mean, I, I really thank, um, Mona, very much, because you opened this opportunity. You were so brave to open this opportunity for a debate. However, I can't be tolerant with your generalisation. The generalisation that you, you use in, in your article, it implies a humiliation. It implies insulting for our men. You don't know how Muslim Arab men…

Mona Eltahawy: [INTERRUPTING] I'm, I'm Egyptian - I'm there. I see this.

Aitemad Muhanna: [INTERRUPTING] I believe that you lived in Gaza, but you are Egyptian, and middle class, lived long time in Washington, or in United States, but, how long did you spend in upper Egypt…

Mona Eltahawy: [INTERRUPTING] Half of my life.

Aitemad Muhanna: … with poor and rural women? You, you…

Mona Eltahawy: [INTERRUPTING] Rural…

Aitemad Muhanna: …don't reflect the actual life that poor women in Egypt live, because I read many articles. You haven't mentioned anything about the reality of poor women's lives in Egypt.

Mona Eltahawy: Can I answer?

Mehdi Hasan: Er, we're going to move on, yeah.

Mona Eltahawy: Yep. Let me tell you about rural areas of Egypt. We have girls, as young as 12 and 13, who are trafficked into marriage, with much older, wealthier men, from the Gulf countries. This is a documented fact. We have sex trafficking of the daughters of the poor. We are selling our girls to rich men from the Gulf.

Mehdi Hasan: I want to pick on something Dr Hargey mentioned about the perversion of Islamic principles, where in your essay you say, quote, "Islamist hatred of women burns brightly across the region." Again, some might say, a very unfair generalisation. In Tunisia, the Ennahda party.

Mona Eltahawy: Yes

Mehdi Hasan: Almost half of its parliamentary party – women. Tawakkol Karman, Yemen – Nobel Prize winner, member of an Islamist party…

Mona Eltahawy: What kind of policies are they pushing, Mehdi?

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] You gloss over this.

Mona Eltahawy: What kind of policies are they pushing? When you look at the women of the Muslim Brotherhood, or, let's look at the women of the Salafi Nour Party, who, you know, because they were try to counter accusations that they're misogynist, they ran female candidates. They ran a rose in place of a woman's face in their campaign literature. A women is not good enough to run on there, her face is such a sin, that they have to run a rose for it? They use religion to justify this domination. When you speak to the women of the Muslim Brotherhood, they have said, FGM, and these were parliamentarians, FGM, which is mutilation of the genitals, is a form of quote unquote beautification.

Mehdi Hasan [INTERRUPTING]: How does that then fit with your thesis of men versus women? If women are also engaging in this?

Mona Eltahawy: But, but this is what I was saying earlier, that the women understand what they need to say in order to be accepted in this. Women internalise their subjugation, Mehdi, this doesn't happen in a vacuum. When you're a women who grows up in a society where you understand what you need to say, first of all, to get that tiny piece…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING]: It's a bit patronising to say that women who don't take the same course as you, have internalised their own subjugation.

Mona Eltahawy: Wait, wait, wait, no, no, no, wait, wait, wait…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Some might say the same about you.

Mona Eltahawy: What have I internalised? The idea that I deserve to be free? I'm glad I've internalised this idea because I will not be subjugated.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah, but, you generalise the view of the Arab world as monolithic and homogenous.

Mona Eltahawy: When it comes to women's rights, it is.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Which is a view expressed often in, in Western countries.

Mona Eltahawy: I, this, is not a Westerner speaking, this is an Egyptian Muslim, and when it comes to women's rights, the Arab world, unfortunately, is quite monolithic when it comes to oppressing us as women.

Mehdi Hasan: So, here's my question to you: Millions and millions of women are voting for Islamist parties, in these countries. How are you changing their minds? How are you persuading them to externalise their subjugation?

Mona Eltahawy: Well, the first, and most important step, is to actually look things in the eye and say: "This is really bad." And stop apologising, and stop being defensive. I'm hearing a lot of defensiveness here, where I'm supposed to say, "You know what, it's not that bad." But, you know what, it is incredibly bad. And if we're going through revolutions and uprisings right now, that are about freedom and dignity. The chants of our revolution were bread, liberty and social justice. You can't have any of those things when half of your population is treated terribly. These are revolutionary times.

Mehdi Hasan: If you had to choose between living under a secular feminist dictator, or a democratically elected Islamist government, which one would you choose?

Mona Eltahawy: I don't… [LAUGHS] This is a kind of binary that has taken our part of the world to ruins.

Mehdi Hasan: Oh, come on, the woman who wrote "Why They Hate Us" can't talk to me about binary issues.

Mona Eltahawy: [LAUGHS] Yes, I can. If it's, if it's me provoking, I, I can.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] I'm going to ask you a binary - Well, I'm provoking you: Where would you rather live? Under a feminist dictator, or a democratically elected Islamist government?

Mona Eltahawy: I would like to live in a country that has a constitution that guarantees a high enough ceiling of rights that is up here, that guarantees everybody rights, and doesn't put it so down here, that I have to contort myself in order to fit.

Mehdi Hasan: In Egypt, you underwent a horrific experience, which you've written about and spoken about, where you were assaulted by state security forces, by, you say, by people in the crowds, in the revolutionary crowds, sexually assaulted, arms broken,

Mona Eltahawy: Yes.

Mehdi Hasan: Absolutely horrific experience. Do you think that affected your decision to take this stance, write this provocative piece, because of what you went through, personally?

Mona Eltahawy: I think it's really interesting that women are always accused of personalising everything. That, you know, when a woman is angry, oh my God, it's because you've had such a terrible life. Well, first of all, what happened to me was horrific, and it made me angry, and of course I'm angry. I mean, who wouldn't be angry, I spent three months in a cast? I couldn't write, I couldn't use my fingers, it hurt a lot. So this was the first essay that I wrote, when I was finally able to write. So of course I wrote it in anger.

But, I've been a feminist since I was 19. I was sexually assaulted and had my arms broken when I was 43. What did I do in the intervening period? I didn't suddenly wake up and say, "Oh my God, I'm so angry because Egyptian police violated me'. I've been angry since I was 19. And that anger was, was first planted in Saudi Arabia. My family moved to Saudi Arabia from the UK when I was 15. And to move to Saudi Arabia as a teenage girl, it was like the lights being turned off. And I understood that, as a woman, I had two options - to lose my mind, or become a feminist.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok, well…

Mona Eltahawy: And at first, I began to lose my mind, and then I became a feminist. [LAUGHTER]

Mehdi Hasan: Well you are a feminist. You say you fight for Arab women to have as much freedom, as much power, as much agency as possible, yet you support a blanket ban on the face veil, on the niqab. Isn't that a contradiction?

Mona Eltahawy: Feminism isn't about opening up something that then comes in and cuts feminism at the knees. I consider the niqab an erasure of women. I don't know who the individual woman is under that niqab. And, when you look at the ideology that promotes the niqab, it is the antithesis of feminism. It doesn't essentially believe in a woman's right to do anything but cover her face, and yet, it wants to use the tools of feminism to defend that right. That's the contradiction, right there.

Mehdi Hasan: And, and your critics would say, even if that were all true, you want to use illiberal means, despotic means, in order to further your feminist agenda, by banning women, some of whom are forced to wear it, but others of whom choose to wear it.

Mona Eltahawy: Right. Let me make an outrageous and provocative remark…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] That would be unlike you, that would be unlike you.

Mona Eltahawy:  …Seeing as I'm known for that. [LAUGHS] Okay, if somebody chooses to be a slave, am I supposed to support that choice, because they chose it? What is this fetishisation of choice?

Mehdi Hasan: You think wearing an article of clothing is equivalent to being a slave?

Mona Eltahawy: No, but this is why I said I'm going to be intentionally provocative now. I'm not comparing the niqab to slavery.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] There's no point being provocative if it's not relevant.

Mona Eltahawy [LAUGHING]: No, it is relevant, because you're talking, you're asking me to respect choice, regardless. I'm telling you this is a choice to erase women.

Mehdi Hasan: Let me bring in our panel again. Dr Naguib, you don't wear a face veil, but you wear a headscarf. The face veil does limit women's exposure to society, interaction – Mona has a point there, does she not?

Shuruq Naguib: Er, the banning of the niqab, or thinking of niqab as an erasure, of women in the public sphere particularly, again, presupposes that female agency, in public, has to take a certain shape. So you're imposing your own view of how female agency or female presence should be in the public sphere, on a lot of other women, who would express their agency differently. And in that, I think, you're being a fundamentalist feminist. In a very repressive way for other women.

Mehdi Hasan: Very briefly, because I want to bring the other panellists in.

Mona Eltahawy: You know,

Mehdi Hasan: Just on that last point.

Mona Eltahawy: If you were sitting on that bench right now and talking to me in this discussion and your face was covered, our dynamic would be very different. We, as human beings, non-verbal communication plays a huge role in the way that we communicate. This isn't just about me and my personal discomfort. This is about human communication…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah, but the question is you're…

Mona Eltahawy: [INTERRUPTING]: When you cover your face… But that's part of the erasure.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING]: The question is you want to use illiberal means – a ban. The question is, we're not having a debate, essentially, about the niqab – that's a debate for another day – the question is, your means that you're advancing is a ban, some would say, including human rights groups, that's fundamentally illiberal…

Mona Eltahawy: [INTERRUPTING]: For the greater good, for the greater good of our discussion.

Mehdi Hasan [INTERRUPTING]: I've heard that language before, "for the greater good." Er, Dr Hargey, am I right in saying that you don't like the face veil so much, that you once threatened to burn it, in public?

Taj Hargey: I did, actually.

Mehdi Hasan: You did burn, you burned it?

Taj Hargey: Yes. But I think firstly we need to use the proper word. I don't call it the face veil, I call it the face mask, because that's what it is - it's a mask. We should stop pussyfooting around using nice terms like veil. And where does this drive for this face masking come from? It doesn't come from women, it comes from men.

Mehdi Hasan: Masks are not always bad…

Taj Hargey: It comes, it comes from men, it comes from these male mullahs, fuqaha, ulama, clergy, whatever. And, since the word niqab, burqa, it's not even in the Quran, seeing as this practice pre-dates Islam...

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But you would ban it?

Taj Hargey: [TALKING OVER]: ... to the time of, the time of Cyrus the Great. And so it's, since it's pre-Islamic, since it's non-Quranic, automatically, I think, in religious terms, it is non-Muslim. So…

Mehdi Hasan: That's not the question - would you ban it, in the name of feminism and liberalism?

Taj Hargey: Yes, because I'll tell you why I would ban it. Because, in this country, in this country, you and I, Mehdi, can't walk down the street and go to Barclays Bank, and anywhere else, and go change some money, wearing a ski mask - these three ladies, and the rest of the women here, they can go. So, here we have now gender inequality. We are supposed to be living in a gender equal society. Why is it right for women to conceal their identity in public, and not right for men to conceal their identity in public? Either, everyone conceals their faces, or no one does.

Mehdi Hasan: In the past you've described yourself, I think, as, quote, "on the far left," you said in one of your - your interviews. You're a Liberal, you're on the left, you don't like the political right and yet some of the language you use does, wittingly or unwittingly, it does feed, not just the right, but the far right, especially in Europe. It feeds an agenda. Whether you like it or not you're fuelling some of the people who really just want to bash and hate.

Mona Eltahawy: But I attack them just as I attack the religious right on the Muslim side. I place myself, in every article I've written, about the niqab especially, I say very clearly, I place myself in the middle, between two right wings. There is a right wing, the xenophobic political right wing in Europe and in North America, but there's also a right wing within the Muslim community that nobody wants to talk about, or very few people want to talk about. And that's why I take it as a point of pride…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] You…

Mona Eltahawy: Wait, wait, I take it as a point of pride, to call myself  a Liberal Feminist. Yes, I'm a Liberal Feminist, and I'm an extremist Liberal Feminist because it's unpopular to be a Liberal Feminist because we keep pussyfooting around and apologising for the abhorrent way that we treat women.

Mehdi Hasan: You are a Liberal Feminist who's happy to use illiberal means to advance your agenda?

Mona Eltahawy: When it comes to the disappearance of women, yes.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Okay.

Mona Eltahawy: Because I will not allow something to cut feminism at the knees, and then I'm told what kind of feminist are you? I'm a feminist who believes in the right to choose. And what are you choosing? To disappear women. And you're using feminism to justify that? That's ridiculous.

Mehdi Hasan: Well, we're going to have to take a break right there. This is a very interesting discussion. We're going to be talking, in Part Two, about Islam and feminism. We're also gonna be hearing from our very patient audience, here, at the Oxford Union, who'll have their questions and comments to Mona Eltahawy. Join us for part two of Head to Head.


Part two 

Mehdi Hasan: Welcome back, you're watching Head to Head on Al Jazeera. We're here in the Oxford Union with our guest today, Mona Eltahawy: journalist, activist, feminist. We're talking about feminism and women's rights in the Arab world. Just on the religious angle to all of this, and yes the shadow of Islam hangs over much of our discussion about the Arab world and women's rights. So, Mona, let me ask you this: Would you describe yourself as an observant Muslim, as a practising Muslim?

Mona Eltahawy: I hate those kind of questions because I think, for any Muslim, the only question is: Are you a Muslim? And as far as I'm concerned, if you self-identify as a Muslim, that's all anybody needs to know.

Mehdi Hasan: What do you mean by "self-identify as a Muslim"? It sounds nice, but what does it actually mean in practice?

Mona Eltahawy: To say I'm a Muslim. That's it ... You see, when people ask you these observant questions, I know what the goal of this is, you're trying to put people in a box and say oh you're that kind of Muslim, oh you're that kind of Muslim. All you need to know is that I'm a Muslim, and that's essentially what the prophet said, that you're a Muslim.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Well, you've used the phrase, also, Progressive Muslim.

Mona Eltahawy: Yes.

Mehdi Hasan: So you put yourself in a box?

Mona Eltahawy: Well, in that label, as long as I choose the box.

Mehdi Hasan: Okay

Mona Eltahawy: [LAUGHS]

Mehdi Hasan: As long as you're provocative, as long as you choose the boxes, okay.

Mona Eltahawy: But people want to take it further than that, and they do want to know things like, "So, do you pray, do you fast?" and I say, "It's none of your business." Because I know that that is the beginning of a slippery road, to A. Judging, and B. Dismissing everything I have to say. So it's nobody's business. All you need to know…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Although you judge a lot of people. You judged conservative Muslims in one sweeping phrase…

Mona Eltahawy: If they're going to be misogynist, of course I'm going to judge them. And you don't think I get judged?

Mehdi Hasan: It's called a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Mona Eltahawy: Have you seen … have you seen my Twitter feed? I get judged every minute.

Mehdi Hasan: I have indeed. We talked about the niqab and the face veil in part one, and you mention, in that discussion, that you used to wear the hijab, the head scarf. I'm just wondering, did you stop wearing the head scarf because you thought, "It's not an Islamic necessity, it's not a requirement," or did you stop wearing it because you thought, "I don't care if it's an Islamic requirement, I'm a feminist and I don't want to wear this illiberal, anti-woman article of clothing"?

Mona Eltahawy: No, I actually stopped wearing it because I didn't believe it was an obligation. And it was actually Leila Ahmed and Fatema Mernissi, you know, the Moroccan sociologist, and it was both their books that were very instrumental in my moving away from the hijab. Because when I first started to wear it, I was 16 years old in Saudi Arabia, struggling mightily with life in Saudi Arabia, where I honestly felt besieged by the way men treated women there, by the sexual harassment that happens on the street, by the way men look at you, and I just wanted to hide. And so I thought, you know what? And I was losing my mind, I was … I fell into a deep depression because of the way I felt in Saudi Arabia. So I thought, you know, they keep telling me that I should wear a head scarf, they keep telling me that this is what a good Muslim girl should do, so I'll do it. But very soon after I began to wear the head scarf, I felt very uncomfortable wearing it. But I struggled with that guilt, and nobody talks about that guilt that Muslim women feel when … er, so I say I wore the head scarf for nine years, and it took me eight years to take it off.

Mehdi Hasan: Would you support a ban on the hijab as you support a ban on the niqab?

Mona Eltahawy: I don't, actually, no I don't 'cause it's very different, 'cause for me it's about the face. Because in hijab I can recognise you, you are the person that you are. My problem with the niqab is the disappearance of women, as I've said.

Mehdi Hasan: You mentioned Leila Ahmed, Fatema Mernissi. Is your view, as a Muslim and as a feminist, do you think Islam goes hand in hand with feminism? Would you call yourself an Islamic feminist?

Mona Eltahawy: There was a time when I called myself an Islamic feminist, but I no longer do now. I call myself a Muslim and a feminist, but I do belong to a movement called Musawah, which is the Arabic word for equality. And it's a movement that was launched in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2009, and it's a movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family. In most countries, such as mine, Egypt and others, that basically have so-called "modernised" their legal system, the one area of the law that still abides by the various Islamic interpretations followed in that country, is family law. So things like marriage, divorce, inheritance, all of that. And it's incredibly misogynist. Musawah has women like Amina Wadud, who led that mixed gender…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Yes

Mona Eltahawy: …Friday pray that I pray behind, where it was a woman leading men and women, praying side by side.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Yes

Mona Eltahawy: Amina Wadud describes as herself as an Islamic feminist. I stopped…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Because?

Mona Eltahawy: …when I realised that we would get into these endless arguments of my verse versus your verse. And I didn't want to get into my verse versus your verse 'cause they'd always pull something out. And then the last thing they would use is, "Well, you don't even wear hijab." So I was always, always marginalised, just because I was a woman…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Is your view...

Mona Eltahawy: …or not wearing hijab. So I don't play that game anymore.

Mehdi Hasan: Okay, well, is your view that Islam is an inherently patriarchal religion? Or is it that men have come along and inserted patriarchal interpretations into a faith that's not patriarchal? Where do you stand?

Mona Eltahawy: [INTERRUPTING] Well, I… you know, my views have, have evolved, and I think the latest place, and I'm sure they're going to continue to evolve, I would hope everyone's views continue to evolve, but my views right now are most, or actually all religions, are essentially patriarchal. All of them. Because when you look at Christianity, you look at Judaism, you look at Hinduism. I think all religions basically give a free ride to men, and I think that it falls on the shoulders of women, who choose to remain in those religions, to fight.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So, you say all religions … so, let me just try and nail this down. You're a believer in Islam, you're a…

Mona Eltahawy [INTERRUPTING]: Yes

Mehdi Hasan: … believer in God …

Mona Eltahawy: [INTERRUPTING]: Yes

Mehdi Hasan: So is God patriarchal? Is it God who's made the … is God misogynistic? [LAUGHTER]. There's lots of yes's coming from the crowd.

Mona Eltahawy: [LAUGHING]: Erm, I haven't spoken to God lately, [LAUGHTER] but, if you look at the way we're told God spoke, then, yes, God is patriarchal. But here's our challenge, my challenge now is to think, okay, what is my concept of God, if I'm going to continue believing in God? And my concept would be that it is a just God. And if it is a just God, then the way that all religions are practiced right now, are completely unjust.

Mehdi Hasan: And you said you believe in the prophet as well, as part of the declaration of faith. Again, a lot of people in the West now would say, for example, "The prophet was an evil person, the prophet of Islam was a misogynist; it all began with him." Is that a view you share?

Mona Eltahawy: Well, my view that I like to share of the prophet is when he married Khadija. Khadija employed him, Khadija was a rich divorcée, Khadija was 15 years older than him and she proposed to him. And, you know, the prophet was okay with that. He married a woman who was 15 years older than him, and much richer, and much more powerful than him. And she remained his only wife until she died. And she was the first Muslim. So if the first Muslim that this man that we consider our prophet, if the first Muslim was his much older wife, that is the image of the prophet that I hold onto.

Mehdi Hasan: Okay, well let's go back to our panel on this. Dr Hargey, the progressive Muslim Imam, I think you call yourself, do you see Islam as a patriarchal faith?

Taj Hargey: We need to cut out the middleman. The middleman is who? They're all males. Males tell women how to dress, how to cover their face, cover their hair and so forth and so forth. Now, for example, we come to the hijab. You know, the average man, in the audience and out there, are they interested in a woman's hair? Hell, no. Only women are interested in women's hair, you know? [LAUGHTER]

For the average man, as long as a woman have everything else there, that's fine, so this idea of the hijab, the word … appears eight times in the Quran, but not once does it talk about women's hair. The word niqab and burqa were mentioned and it's not even in the Quran.

Mehdi Hasan: Let me ask Dr Naguib, what do you think when you hear about all the talk about progressive Islam, and reforming Islam, and getting rid of the patriarchy?

Shuruq Naguib: The tradition is dominated by men, but it wasn't always dominated by men. There are precedents by Khadija, Aisha, and throughout the centuries there were women scholars, women interpreters, and transmitters of the tradition, who left this out and as a scholar of Islam I can say with confidence that there are many sites of hope, within the Islamic tradition, where women have managed to hinder a further stringent interpretation of the tradition. But to keep indicting religion, keep indicting it as patriarchy, misogynistic, male dominated, and not do anything about it, rather adopt, a foreign paradigm…

Mona Eltahawy: Musawah is not a foreign paradigm. Musawah is a movement made up of Muslims from all over the world. It was launched in Malaysia, one of the biggest Muslim countries, so there is no foreign paradigm here, this isn't about the West trying to turn Islam upside down. These are Muslims who are facing some of the most problematic areas, which are family law, which are incredibly unjust when it comes to girls and women. Progressive Muslims are the ones who tell conservatives, "You don't own the religion." That you're not the only authentic types out there.

Mehdi Hasan: Dr Muhanna, there's a spokeswoman for the Muslim Brotherhood, called Sondos Asem, who's said that religion, Islam, can be a key force, a key driver against gender based violence. Is that a view you share? That is, that Islam and Islamic institutions can be used in the struggle for gender equality?

Aitemad Muhanna: Religion is a very, very strong moral source of power for women, and they use religion in order to equalise their relationship with men.

Mona Eltahawy: Organisations and movements like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood do not believe in gender equality. The fact that they are not in pos…

Aitemad Muhanna: [INTERRUPTING] They don't have to. They don't have to.

Mona Eltahawy: You don't have to? No, no.

Aitemad Muhanna: They don't have to.

Mona Eltahawy: [TALKING OVER ONE ANOTHER] Well, as a feminist I will critique them on that.

Aitemad Muhanna: As long as the women exercise their power, and they…

Mona Eltahawy: These women. How … how do they exercise …

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] There is, do you accept that there's a clash between empowerment and equality?

Mona Eltahawy: [INTERRUPTING] Can I finish, can I finish, can I finish..? No, I need to finish my point.

Mehdi Hasan: Okay.

Mona Eltahawy: How do these women exercise their power? If they hit the ceiling constantly and they're told, because of religion, because of the politics of the movement, because of the culture, they can't go any further. Wait, wait, wait. And you're talking about … 

Aitemad Muhanna: [INTERRUPTING] The definition of power that you have is different than mine because power …

Mona Eltahawy: [INTERRUPTING] If men make all the decisions, that is power. What power do you want?

Aitemad Muhanna: [INTERRUPTING] This is the, this is the…

Mona Eltahawy: [TALKING OVER ONE ANOTHER] That you decide what food you buy in your supermarket? Come on.

Mehdi Hasan: You're saying you want women to make decisions. When I talked about earlier, women in Muslim, Islamist parties…

Mona Eltahawy: Yes.

Mehdi Hasan: You didn't like the decisions they were making.

Mona Eltahawy: Well, they were making decisions that empower men at their expense. They're saying things like FGM is beautification.

Mehdi Hasan: Isn't that the problem. But isn't that one of the problems Dr Muhanna has identified? That there's a …

Mona Eltahawy: [INTERRUPTING]: She's calling that power,

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING]: Well, I'm saying that…

Mona Eltahawy: That's power to abuse women for men. Why? I will not respect this.

Mehdi Hasan: No one's asking you to respect it. I'm asking, is there a clash between empowerment and strict equality? You can empower women in certain parts of the world and they won't produce a strictly equal society, as we see in some countries.

Mona Eltahawy: [INTERRUPTING] This is not empowerment, this is not empowerment. This is piecemeal…

Audience member: It's a facade.

Mona Eltahawy: Exactly, and not just that...

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, well, let's…

Mona Eltahawy: Can I make one very, very quick point?

Mehdi Hasan: Very briefly.

Mona Eltahawy: When we have these kind of discussions, we're all operating within privilege. We're all educated, we can all eat, nobody threatens our lives, okay? Because of that, people forget that there are others who have much, much less. What I'm trying to do in my writing, and when I get this angry, what I'm trying to do is remind people that there are lots of people out there who have much less, who don't have the privilege or the right to sit here on a stage with you, to tell you that her father and her mother decides that her genitals are cut. That she, at the age of 16, ends up committing suicide because she has to marry her rapist. Where is the power here? This, I hate the word empowerment anyway 'cause it means nothing.

Mehdi Hasan: Okay, let's bring in the audience. Let's go to that lady there at the back on the left side of the audience, yes you. You don't need to look around, it's you.

Audience Participant 1: I'm fearful that there are so many women who so agree with you when it comes to the fact that women should be able to drive, and should be able to vote, and shouldn't have to be subject …

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING]: There are also men in the room who agree with that as well, go on.

Audience Participant 1: Including… absolutely, absolutely. Erm, but the moment that those women and men hear that their fathers or their husbands or their boyfriends are misogynists, they stop listening to you.

Mona Eltahawy: It's not about individual husbands and fathers 'cause, you know, a lot of women would write to me and say, "But my father doesn't hate me." It's not that simple. It's about men and boys, basically being made to be these misogynists because of the culture and the way it's mixed in with religion. To get to that, though, we have to agree, as women, that we have that right to speak out. We have to agree, as women, that we have to stop being defensive and politically correct about this. And then we get to the men, but if I haven't even solved any of this, if we're still arguing that women who have no decision-making abilities are empowered, how are they, then going to get to the men?

Mehdi Hasan: I'm going to go to the lady here in the face veil.

Audience Participant 2: As-salam alaykum. I think your passion is an inspiration for me, there's a lot of things that you stand up for, that I stand with you, but obviously the face veil is something that grieves me. And the question that I want to ask you, really, is that when you learn that you're interrupting my journey, and my right to wear the veil, would you, you know, decide to actually stop speaking out against it? Just like when you were wearing your head scarf and it took you eight years, it shows that it would take a lot to undo, if it is an injustice that has been put in by men, you know, will you continue to stand up against it, when you learn that actually there are a lot of women that want to wear the veil?

Mona Eltahawy: Erm, I don't think I would change my position. I mean, I appreciate you being here, and I appreciate you discussing this with me, but, you know, well, you know that we both disagree deeply. And I don't think my position will change. I think that in order for, if someone wants to make that journey, obviously I cannot make that journey for them, but my views on the niqab are based on my principles about women and their visibility in society, but also our ability to communicate. Because I'm sure that, if your face wasn't covered, our dynamic would be very different. So I ask you, also, to consider that.

Mehdi Hasan: Let's go back to the audience. Lady here, in the head scarf, in the front row.

Audience Participant 3: What you are saying contradicts with my real life. I have never been oppressed. My friends have never been oppressed. I lived in the US, I lived in rural Egypt, I lived in Cairo and I lived in upper Egypt. What you're referring to is minor cases. Like when you speak about father selling the girls for the Gulf men, you cannot generalise about it and say women are being oppressed, because it's very minor cases you are referring to. When you speak about men, why they hate us, when my father tells me, like, come [home] early, I see him, he's protecting me, not hating me.

Mona Eltahawy: Can I interrupt? I'm sorry, why does he need to protect, what is he protecting you from?

Audience Participant 3: He's protecting me, maybe there are thieves in the street, someone is going to rob [me of my] my mobile phone for instance.

Mona Eltahawy: How old are you?

Audience Participant 3: I'm 23.

Mona Eltahawy: And would he do the same to your brother?

Audience Participant 3: Yeah.

Mona Eltahawy: [LAUGHS] Men in Egypt don't have curfews, you know that.

Audience Participant 3: You are seeing it from only one side. I have been to Tahir square, and when you tell, like, women are being insulted or in Tahir square, men have been insulted as well, they have been beaten up. I have seen many men have lost their own lives in order to protect women.

Mehdi Hasan: Okay, let Mona come back in 'cause I want to bring more people in. You made a very strong point, do you want to respond to the couple of points: generalisations,

Mona Eltahawy: [INTERRUPTING] Yes, yes.

Mehdi Hasan: Seeing it from only one point of view.

Mona Eltahawy: I did not make those indices that show that there are huge gaps when it comes to gender equality in the Arab world. These are not minor issues. I'm glad that you have a good life, I'm glad that you have not been oppressed, and I'm glad that your father doesn't hate you, but it's not about you and it's not about me. It's about a lot of other women out there who have none of the privileges that we have, and who nobody thinks about. Just because your life and my life are privileged and comfortable does not mean that we forget about the other women.

Mehdi Hasan: Let's go back to the audience, er, let's go to gentleman, here, in the green shirt.

Audience Participant 4: The question I want to ask you is, when it comes to actually implementing your beliefs or ideas, how do you reconcile that with the principles of democracy? So, i.e., one woman, or indeed one man, one vote. And if you're unable to do so, do you not think it's a dangerous position to hold, to say you know what it means to be free, more than someone else?

Mona Eltahawy: I'm not saying I know what it means to be freer than someone else, but I'm saying that I want a ceiling of rights that is high enough to include as many people as possible. But also not to use this idea of she's choosing to be that way, as a way of undermining feminism. How you implement this, I mean, there are ways to do this. One of the major demands of feminist groups in Egypt right now is a quota in our parliament because right now …

Mehdi Hasan [INTERRUPTING]: Mona, when I said to you the Tunisians have almost half their parliament, or a third of their parliament are women, half Ennahda, you said but they're not voting for the right things.

Mona Eltahawy: Mehdi, there is a difference between a woman in parliament, who says that FGM is beautification, and a woman in parliament who's actually concerned with the rights and well-being of girls. This is going to be a problem with quotas, of course, because there are going to be women who are voted in who have very conservative views, who are not going to help the rights of girls and women. But what we hope to achieve, through a quota, is to normalise the image of women in politics. But at the same time as this is happening, 'cause this isn't the only solution, same time as this is happening we have this revolution go into the home, where women are challenging their fathers and their brothers, and where the brothers and the fathers themselves are challenging views that, for such a long time, allowed them to treat girls and women like this without even thinking.

Mehdi Hasan: Let's take some more audience members. Lady there in the back row, there, yes, with your hand up.

Audience Participant 5: I think the issues you're taking on are no doubt to be commended. Very brave. And I think, you know, I wish more people would. I just don't think you're acknowledging, or answering, that actually, by going about it in this way, you're actually putting people off completely. You know, taking this approach, taking this, kind of, us versus them, men versus women approach, I really struggle with this kind of extreme way of dealing with these issues.

Mona Eltahawy: It's up to you to choose where, along a spectrum of activism, you decide to stand. 'Cause I've already chosen my position, and my position has always been: as long as there are extreme elements in my society, and in my culture, and in my religion, who are willing to basically strip women of as many rights as possible, I will be on that [opposite] extreme end. What you choose to do with your position is up to you, but I'm hoping that because I'm pulling on this end, it opens up a bit of space for you. You don't have to have the exact same views that I have, you can say, "Oh Mona's crazy, she's way out there, I'm not going to be that way out there." But you have to decide, you know, people keep talking about agency, it's up to you to decide where you are, but I have decided to take what many consider an extreme position and I'm proud of that. What I see my role as being is a provocateur, of someone out here who will say things that few other people will want to say, who will be controversial, because I believe that it is the role of a writer, and somebody who considers the words that she uses as being part of her activism, to disturb people and to find the place where it hurts and to push. That's what I believe my role is.

Mehdi Hasan: Okay, let's go back to the audience, [APPLAUSE] er, who's got questions here? Lady here in the front row.

Audience Participant 6: Thank you very much for all your efforts, I don't want to say that, you know, I don't appreciate what you're trying to do in highlighting these issues. My concern with your analysis, however, is that by characterising this as very much an Arab, or a Muslim, problem, I think you're overlooking the fact that this is really about patriarchy, which is, in the end, a universal phenomenon. And I think the question that we need to be asking ourselves, and which a lot of people have reacted to, isn't "why do men hate women?" supposedly, but what is patriarchy actually about? Some of the examples you give, of so-called men hating women, I think are more actually about men trying to exert control over society in general. Like the virginity tests of girls in Egypt. That's not the Egyptian army hating girls, that's the Egyptian army wanting to stifle dissent.

Mona Eltahawy: Absolutely, a lot of the sexual violence in Egypt has to do with pushing women out of public space, but here's the point that a lot of people don't continue with these so-called virginity tests: the Egyptian military violated women in that way because it knows that Egyptian society accepts the idea of virginity tests. There are Egyptian families who will take their daughters to a forensics doctor and have him issue a certificate of virginity before she gets married. That's why I said that the oppression of women happens on the regime level, and it happens on the street level. The two are connected, they don't happen in a vacuum.

Mehdi Hasan: Lady there, right in the corner, sticking her hand up very high.

Audience Participant 7: Erm, hi. First of all, I'm an Arab, and I wanted to say thank you. We're very proud to have someone like you. And, second, I wanted to respond to a couple of people in the audience who said that it's not really that bad, and these are, like, minor cases, and if you're in the middle class you won't really face that. Well, I still have to go through sexism, and I still have to go through inequality, gender inequality. Yeah, I'm not raped, and yes I'm not married off to someone at 16, but I am expected to be okay with not getting leadership positions in companies because I'm a woman, while someone else is a man, regardless of whether or not I graduated top of my class. Double standards are present in everything, including sexuality and including where you get to go at night. And why should someone have a curfew? If we live in proper societies where there really is gender equality, do you think that you would have to go home early so that you'd be protected? No, you'd live in a society where you can walk on the street at the same time that a man can walk on the street. That's all I wanted to say. Thank you.

Mehdi Hasan: Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] We'll take one more … we'll take another question.

Mona Eltahawy: Can I respond to her very quickly?

Mehdi Hasan: Very briefly.

Mona Eltahawy: Very quickly.

Mehdi Hasan: Then we'll take one more question.

Mona Eltahawy: That's exactly why I asked the young woman here, who said to me that her father does it out of protection and I asked her why, "what does he need to protect you from?" He needs to protect her from a misogynistic society. And, you know, what you said, most Arab countries, I think, if not all, don't have laws against marital rape, and very few of them have laws against domestic violence. So even when women's lives are threatened, regardless of class now, there are even some Arab countries where, if you harbour a woman who is trying to escape an abusive husband, you, yourself, are taken to prison.

Mehdi Hasan: That gentleman there, let's take a guy. Second row, there, with the glasses on.

Audience Participant 8: I just want to say thank you, I applaud for what you're doing, I suppose many people do here as well. And I do think that the problem needs to be addressed. There is an elephant in the room, and I think there's this idea in the Arab world that we have to paint a picture that actually, things are okay, we don't hang our dirty laundry out for everybody to see. Mehdi, you know, I respect you very much, but I think questions regarding look at the picture and how the story is being projected, look at the picture that was on Foreign Policy online where there was a half-naked woman surrounded by six policemen, and she was beaten. Why wasn't there uproar about that? There shouldn't be uproar about that picture, there should be uproar about what's going on, about what happened, about what led to it. Let the issue be the issue.

Mehdi Hasan: I don't think they're mutually exclusive, but good point.

Audience Participant 8: Thank you.

Mehdi Hasan: Er, we'll take one more question. Woman there at the back, yes, with your hand straight up, in the black top.

Audience Participant 9: Erm, in terms of pervading cultural and religious boundaries, particularly in the Arab world, between a Muslim feminist wearing a hijab and a Muslim feminist not wearing a hijab, who would be more effective in pervading these boundaries? And raising the roof in terms of raising political debate, and raising the ceiling of women's rights.

Mona Eltahawy: That's a good question, and I think that each of them has a role to play, which is why I was saying that Musawah has women who define themselves as Islamic feminists, and those, like myself, who say feminism and Islam are, like, two separate things. I think that each has a role to play.

Mehdi Hasan: We heard a lot of diagnosis critique from you, and as I said at the start, I agree with you on much of your critique of what's wrong. I don't agree with everything. I think most people in the hall, most people watching at home, would probably agree with regard to how abysmal women's rights are in the Middle East. The next question then, becomes, to you, we hear a lot of criticism, a lot of legitimate anger, but what are the solutions? What are the things that can be done? What, do you have a five point plan?

Mona Eltahawy: I have to disagree with you, Mehdi, that a lot of people agree with me that things are bad, because they don't. And I've heard it here over and over again. So our first hurdle is to actually acknowledge that it is that bad. This is one thing that a lot of people do not want to acknowledge.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok, let's just take a break for a second, and let's do a poll of the audience, just so we're clear on this. Raise your hand if you think the situation for women living in the Arab world is bad? [AUDIENCE RAISES HANDS] I think we're fine, Mona. Okay.

Mona Eltahawy: The people who asked me questions did not say that.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So what do we do? Well, you can focus on that in order to, kind of, score a point. Let's stick to the subject.

Mona Eltahawy: [INTERRUPTING] I'm not trying to score points …

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Well then answer my question. What are the solutions? What are the practical solutions, that weren't in your essay and that you haven't really mentioned today? Give us a few of the things that you want to see happen.

Mona Eltahawy: It's why I'm writing a book. We need legislation, we need education, we need a different way of thinking, we need for the women, and the men, but I'm focussing on the women because we need to start with them. For the women who are out on the street, so courageously facing down these regimes, to take that revolution home. But in order for them to do that, they need backing up. So we need legislation against sexual violence, we need legislation against domestic violence, we need women to actually feel safe and not have their lives threatened.

Mehdi Hasan: You need like-minded people to win elections, first, to get that legislation.

Mona Eltahawy: We do, we need people who actually believe in legislation to protect women from violence, not protect women from the street, 'cause my father wants to protect me. No, to actually show that, when someone violates me or assaults me, I can take him to a police station and have them take it seriously. Countries that do have high education levels, in the Gulf, for example, women are more educated than men, there are more women on university campuses than men. But you know how many women are employed in Saudi Arabia? 14 percent. That's terrible. So we need to increase women's role in the workforce, we need to have legislation that gives them equality in the workforce, we need to protect them from violence on the street, we need to change curricula that encourages boys to think that they're going to be the only breadwinners, 'cause that is a burden on men, especially in countries that are poor. We need to encourage this idea that men and women together are keeping their homes alive. There is a whole list of things.

Mehdi Hasan: Thank you very much for being provocative, for being extreme, for coming here to be on Head to Head. Thank you all for coming tonight to listen to Mona and put your questions. Thank you all at home for watching Head to Head tonight. This show will be back next week. Thanks for watching Head to Head on Al Jazeera.

Audience: [APPLAUSE]

Source: Al Jazeera