Egypt protests could mean advancement for women

February 3, 2011 5:47:04 PM PST
From the Bay Area to New York City, thousands of Egyptian students are demonstrating against Mubarak's regime in the United States and they are being joined by many who are sympathetic to the cause.

Protesters want the Obama administration to put enough pressure on President Hosni Mubarak and convince him to step down. This is the first protest we've seen at UC Berkeley and certainly not the last. Just like the demonstrators in Cairo, protesters here are saying, "We will continue gathering until Mubarak leaves."

The protesters chanted, "Down, down with Mubarak. Down, down with Mubarak."

One would expect protesters to gather at UC Berkeley. Students on the ground symbolized the injured and those who have died since the demonstrations began in Egypt 10 days ago. But this was not an only-in-Berkeley protest; many more like it are going on in large cities across the United States.

"This is being heard not only by students on campus, but we are also sending a message to the Egyptian embassy and to our government that they need to take a stronger stance on this issue since we have leverage on them with the $1.5 billion. The U.S. has the power to stop this," says Cal student Nuha Masri.

The figure of $1.5 million is the amount of foreign aid that Egypt receives from the U.S. government. The Obama administration has hinted Mubarak's government could lose that aid if the violence against demonstrators continues. The White House has also said the time for a transition of power has come.

Tarek Hosny is a Cal student from Egypt. He agrees.

"I can think of myself and say, 'OK, I am educated, I had the good opportunity to come here, but if you think of 90 percent of the population living under the poverty line, living in extreme conditions, so any for them whatever comes next even if it's bad, it will be better. It can't get any worse," says Cal student Tarek Hosny.

Women typically don't have a large public role in Egypt. There are pictures posted on the global Fund For Women's website. The non-profit provides financial help to women's rights organizations in Egypt. They say for years women there have tried to push for domestic violence and sexual harassment laws only to have the proposals sit in the Egyptian parliament.

"There is not a lot of room for change. So, these laws sit in the parliament for a very long time because the parliamentarians are not as invested in creating these changes," says Zeina Zaatari from Global Fund for Women.

Things were slowly beginning to change. Just last year, a law was passed in Egypt to create 64 new seats in the lower house just for women. That would give them 12 percent of the seats in the parliament. Here in the United States, women comprise 17 percent of the U.S. Congress.