Citation
Interview with Azza Kamel

Material Information

Title:
Interview with Azza Kamel
Series Title:
Middle East Women's Activism
Alternate Title:
مقابلة مع عزة كامل
Creator:
Kamel, Azza ( Interviewee )
كامل ، عزة ( contributor )
Pratt, Nicola Christine ( contributor )
Place of Publication:
Cairo, Egypt
Publication Date:
Language:
Arabic

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
New Woman Foundation ( UW-MEWA )
مؤسسة المرأة الجديدة ( UW-MEWA )
Israel-Arab War (1967) ( LCSH )
Feminism ( LCSH )
Student movements -- Egypt ( UW-MEWA )
Violence ( LCSH )
Women’s Forum for Research and Training ( UW-MEWA )
منتدى المرأة للبحوث والتدريب ( UW-MEWA )
Nazra for Feminist Studies (Egypt) ( UW-MEWA )
Naẓrah lil-Dirāsāt al-Nisawīyah (Egypt) ( LCSH )
نظرة للدراسات النسوية (Egypt) ( UW-MEWA )
El Shorouk, Egypt ( LCSH )
الشروق‎ ، مصر ( UW-MEWA )
Appropriate Communication Techniques for Development (ACT) ( UW-MEWA )
مركز وسائل الاتصال الملائمة من أجل التنمية ( اكت ) ( UW-MEWA )
Arab network for monitoring the image of women and men in media ( UW-MEWA )
Democracy ( LCSH )
I Saw Harassment (Egypt) ( UW-MEWA )
January 25 2011 Revolution (Egypt) ( UW-MEWA )
Thawrat 25 Yanāyir 2011 (Egypt) ( UW-MEWA )
ثورة 25 ياناير 2011 (مصر) ( UW-MEWA )
Jamʻīyat al-Ikhwān al-Muslimīn (Egypt) ( LCSH )
Muslim Brotherhood (Egypt) ( UW-MEWA )
جمعيات الإخوان المسلمين (مصر) ( UW-MEWA )
Egyptian Women for Change ( UW-MEWA )
المرأة المصرية من أجل التغيير (مصر) ( UW-MEWA )
CEDAW ( UW-MEWA )
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979 December 18) ( LCSH )
ﺍﺗﻔﺎﻗﻴﺔ ﺍﻟﻘﻀﺎﺀ ﻋﻠﻰ ﲨﻴﻊ ﺃﺷﻜﺎﻝ ﺍﻟﺘﻤﻴﻴﺰ ﺿﺪ ﺍﳌﺮﺃﺓ (1979 ديسمبر 18) ( UW-MEWA )
Spatial Coverage:
Asia -- Egypt -- Cairo Governate -- Cairo
Coordinates:
30.033333 x 31.233333

Notes

Abstract:
Azza was born in Cairo in 1960. Her mother was a teacher and her father held a degree in agriculture. She studied at Cairo University, where she initially did a BA in astronomy and then a masters and doctorate in civic education. She became politically active from a young age, participating in the students' movement even before she went to university. Her late husband also introduced her to political activities, as he himself was an activist. Azza went on to help found the New Woman Foundation, a research and political engagement group. Through this group she became involved in campaigning for women's issues. She also helped to found the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights. Eventually, she founded the Appropriate Communication Techniques for Development Centre (ACT) With ACT, she focused on women's issues within Egypt's governorates. In particular she helped campaign on women's health and education issues and against violence against women. She has also worked on the issue of women’s portrayal in the media and training female candidates in the 1996 elections. In 2010, she became involved in the newly-created Egyptian Women for Change, which aimed to unite all women's organisations in Egypt. She participated in the 25 January 2011 uprising, remaining politically independent. As of the interview, she was still hopeful that the revolution could produce lasting change in Egypt, particularly since the capitulation of the Muslim Brotherhood. ( en )
General Note:
Funding : Women's Activism in the Arab World (2013-2016). This project, funded by a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship, examines the significance of middle-class women's activism to the geo/politics of Arab countries, from national independence until the Arab uprisings. It was based on over 100 personal narratives of women activists of different generations from Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.
General Note:
Interview conducted on: 20 December 2013
General Note:
Duration: 35 minutes and 32 seconds
General Note:
Language of interview: Arabic
General Note:
Audio transcription by Captivate Arabia, Amman, Jordan , info@captivatearabia.com
General Note:
آسيا -- مصر -- القاهرة -- القاهرة
General Note:
VIAF (name authority) : Pratt, Nicola Christine : URI http://viaf.org/viaf/49147457

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Warwick
Rights Management:
© 2013 the Interviewer and Interviewee. All rights reserved. Used here with permission.

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Full Text
Interview with Azza Kamel
2014
TAPE 1
Nicola Pratt (later NP.): Can I start by asking when and where you were born?
Azza Kamel (later AK.): I was born in Cairo in 1960.
NP. Did you grow up in Cairo?
AK. Yes, I grew up in Cairo, but I've been to all the governorates of Egypt.
NP. As a child?
AK. No. After I turned 18, because I had joined a women's group; the New Woman Foundation
(NWF) and I started to tour the governorates and do volunteer work and so on.
NP. What did your mother and father do for a living?
AK. My mother had teaching degree and work as a teacher. My father had a degree in
Agriculture. Both of them worked. My worked all her life.
NP. What did you study at university?
AK. First, I studies 'astronomy' and was supposed to do my doctorate also in astronomy, but I
didn't, because I couldn't travel to Russia or the USA. After that, I did a master's degree and my
doctorate in 'Civic Education'.
NP. Which university did you attend?
AK. Cairo University, but I travelled to the USA for six months because my doctoral thesis was a
'comparative study' between Egypt and the USA. So, I spent six months in the US visiting
organizations and studying the civic education activities and studies.
NP. Do you have a certain powerful memory from your childhood?
AK. What kind of memory?
NP. A memory from your family life, public life or national event?
AK. I think the most important event for me, although I was a child at the time, was the 1967
war. I remember when the air raids would take place, we'd turn off the lights and we'd paint
the windows dark blue. I think that's one of the most powerful memories.
NP. After that, do you remember any important events?
1


AK. Of course. When Sadat went to Israel that was a very important event at the time, because
it was a shock for the people and it was something that affected us all.
NP. Did you talk about it at home?
AK. All the time. We were all shocked at how this could happen.
NP. Did you attend Cairo University?
AK. Yes.
NP. During that time were you a member of any groups?
AK. I was a member of the New Woman group before it became the New Woman Foundation. I
was young at the time. Everybody was eight or nine years older than me and it was the first
experience that shaped my feminist awareness as part of an organization. That was my
important formative phase. When I was still in middle school, I used to go to the University to
see what the political activists there were doing, so I already formed a relationship with them in
my younger years.
NP. Why were you interested in these activities?
AK. I don't know. I used to read a lot. I also got married very young. My husband, who was nine
years my senior, was also a political activist and he introduced me to this world. I was excited
about all of it, although I didn't go through any difficult personal experiences. My parents were
very kind and they didn't discriminate between the sons and the daughters. But, I could feel
from the people around me that many women and girls were suffering. I also felt it in some of
my female classmates at school and university, that there was something wrong. I had much
more freedom than they did. I always felt that they were oppressed and treated unfairly.
NP. Which year did you enroll at university?
AK. I don't remember exactly. I think it was 198/VP.
NP. So it was after the students' movement.
AK. Yes, but I had lived through the students' movement when I was younger. Because I was
involved with them, so I knew them all.
NP. What sort of things did you do in the New Woman Group?
AK. When we first started we were doing a lot of reading, because it was a research circle. Each
of us would read a book and then present it to the others. We also wrote for a magazine called
the New Woman. I would take part in the discussion circles and write some articles. We would
also go visit some women at their homes and listen to what they had to say. We would also
watch movies that were pro-women. We would also study the experiences of women's groups
2


in other countries, by meeting delegations that would come to Egypt and sometimes we travel
to meet some.
NP. How many people were part of the group?
AK. There was nearly 20 of us.
NP. Did you feel that this was something new in the women's movement in Egypt?
AK. Yes, of course. We had read the history of women's movements in Egypt and the world and
we were very serious about what we were doing. We were doing a very good job informing and
educating ourselves. We started looking in subjects like working women and violence against
women. We were the first group to address the subject of violence against women. It was
forbidden to talk about violence against women at that time. That was a very important issue.
Also, a woman's right to make decisions about her life. These were all very strange topics for
people at that time.
NP. Are you still with the NWF?
AK. Yes, I'm a member of the NWF. I'm one of the founding members. We always work
together, although there's another center, but we work together in all the coalitions and
activities.
NP. Do you still feel that the NWF is different than other groups?
AK. There are new groups that are also doing great work, such as the Women's Forum for
Research and Training, Nazra and the Women and Memory Forum. Nowadays there are groups
that are important and influential. Back in the day, there was only the NWF, which was an
advantage.
NP. I read that you are also a member of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.
AK. Yes, I'm one of the founders. One it was first founded, I became a member, like many other
intellectuals. I was very proud of that, because it was very important and promising at the time.
It helped grow our awareness about political issues and what the situation of women's issues
was like in political discourse, that's why it was something very important. Did you read my CV?
NP. I read it online.
AK. Oh, online. Do you know that I've never looked myself up in the internet? I'm always
surprised by people telling me things about myself.
NP. Really?
AK. Yes.
NP. There's a lot of stuff - all good.
3


AK. No, I don't care if it's good or bad. I'm not worried about what's written there.
NP. There's also an Azza Kamel.
AK. I know Azza Kamel. She does something at the society called Alwan. I write as well. Did you
know I was a writer?
NP. Oh, really?
AK. I write in Shurouk. You can read my articles and I also write short stories. I have two short
story collections published and the third will be published next month.
NP. Can you tell me more about you experience at the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights?
AK. The Egyptian Organization was founded by some of the most important people in Egypt. It
had people of all walks of life: young men and women, people from my generation and the
older generation. People had big expectations for it, because we didn't have any other human
rights organizations. We started on a voluntary basis and with very limited resources. I
remember that the first thing we did for the organization was that a group of artists organized a
gallery showing of their work and the money raised went to the Organization. It was very well
received, everybody wanted to be a part of it and help out because it was something new in
Egypt.
NP. You had mentioned that there were no other human rights organizations at the time. Were
there political parties...?
AK. The political parties were very weak. Political life in Egypt was crippled and the political
parties couldn't do anything at all. That's why this organization acted as a substitute for political
parties and movements. Many politicians who had been part of the student movement were
founding members of the organization in the seventies.
NP. After that you founded ACT.
AK. Yes, in 1990.
NP. Where did the idea for ACT come from?
AK. I got the idea because I saw that the voice of women in the villages all over Egypt must be
heard. They need to find simple techniques to express themselves. So, when I started going to
these villages, I found that if you want speak about something like health, you can't just hold a
lecture. So we started the center for appropriate communication techniques. We started using
'puppets', which they would make themselves. In Al-Minya, the puppet would be made with
elements from the surrounding environment. They would create a scenario and we'd start
talking with the women about health, education how to organize their lives, if they were victims
of violence and so on. We'd also use popular theatre, posters, and folklore songs. So, we
started off like this in many areas and we were also encouraging to also come to these areas
4


and operate in the same way. We helped many women to organize themselves in societies in
Upper Egypt areas. We started our work with that kind of people, not the elites. This was also
something that set us apart. That we were using the tools from the elite society, but reaching
out the simple and marginalized women. After that we did a lot of work on fighting violence
against women. We worked on education by founding one-room schools and worked on the
cultural aspect for allowing females to attend schools without paying fees. A main contribution
of our center in these villages was to train other societies and organizations on how to present
women's issues in these areas. I also focused on gender issues, because I was part of the first
groups that went in 1994 to London to do Gender Studies. We started working on this subject
with societies and foundations, then we realized that we can't affect change in women's issues
without concentrating on media. So, we focused on studying the way women are portrayed in
the media and we have many studies about how women are portrayed whether in caricatures,
music videos, in the press and in drama. We founded the Egyptian Network for Monitoring the
Image of Women and Men in the Media and later a regional network that included Morocco,
Tunisia and... We just had a meeting not too long ago. They do annual monitoring of all kinds
media. That's something very important, because we saw the importance of media during the
Arab Spring. Or what is referred to as the Arab Spring, which has become more of an autumn.
NP. So it's safe to say that you are concerned with the social aspects.
AK. And the legal aspects of course. We also did a lot of work with parliamentary and local
council election candidates. We've been working with women candidates since 1996. Some
have even won in elections. Our field of work includes violence against women, women's
political engagement, the way men and women are portrayed in media and education and we
reach women from all social backgrounds. Lately we started two initiatives we called Fou'ada
Watch and I Saw Harassment. The first deals with any abuses against women and the second
deals with the subject of sexual harassment by spreading awareness and training volunteers in
this field. It also does a lot campaigns in different governorates.
NP. Do you feel that there is any relation between the social and political aspects?
AK. Of course. Where does politics come from if not from the society? You can't separate the
two. But when you're working on social matters you need to be close to the people. This gives
you a platform and popularity so that when the people see you again in a political context, they
can relate to you more and you're now just part of the detached elite, but that you can relate
to them and that you are talking to them. So it's important to have this combination, because
the political aspect on its own is not enough. The idea is development based on rights; a 'rights-
based approach'. This is the direction we're moving in. We've also made a big contribution to
women's right in the constitution in cooperation with other organizations I told you about. It
was a difficult time for us and we were completely immersed in this procedure all the time. We
went to all the governorates and ask the people what they think should be part of the new
Egyptian constitution in general and especially concerning women. We then issued a document.
5


I can gather these documents and give them to you. But there still many abuses against
women. We still haven't achieved everything we set out to achieve. You know all the...
NP. Did you take part in the January 25th demonstrations?
AK. Of course. I was even there when the supports of the Mubarak regime attacked the
protestors while riding on camelback.
NP. Why was it important for you to take part?
AK. \Ne've been dreaming of this kind of change since we were born and this was our dream
being realized; that we'd see change in the Egyptian society, that people speak out, say what
they want and challenge the oppressive system. All these things we've been fighting for our
entire lives so we had to be part of it. We couldn't stay away.
NP. Did you have any friends with you?
AK. Yes, of course. I also had my two children with me. My friends also had their children with
them. Whole families were there.
NP. During the January 25th demonstration, were you just thinking of that moment or were you
think of the future?
AK. It was a dream coming true. We were extremely hopeful that change will happen, so we
were thinking of what we want and presenting our demands for the future. There were many
discussions with politicians, friends and even people who were against the revolution to see
what we can do for the future.
NP. What do you think of the developments from the time Mubarak left until now?
AK. I feel that we're still in the formative process and we'll need a long time. We still haven't
realized the dream of the revolution or our main slogans, because of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Now the Brotherhood is gone, but people are behaving as if there was no January 25th
Revolution, which is supposed to be the core of it all. Many parties are involved and it's not the
way we dreamt it. It's much bigger than what we though at that time. Slowly, it gets clearer
that the price of freedom is a hefty one and that's still early and we'll need years to achieve
what we want, because it's not all in our hands. The same is true for women's right, we have
only achieved very little and it's not worth mentioning. But, I'm optimistic. I'm optimistic
because the Egyptian aren't the way they used to be. Even though this is a confused time, I am
confident they'll know the right way to go.
NP. Were you also part of any other movement or organization other that ACT?
AK. I was also part of Egyptian Women for Change, which was founded before the revolution.
But after the revolution I wasn't part of any organization, because I wanted to be independent,
but I'm not against the movements. I think it's very important and that the work they do is
6


important. Maybe it's just the way I am. I want to be bolder and independent in my decisions.
When you're on your own you have more courage to do things. That the way I see it, I might be
wrong. Wa alykum al Salam. We'll see you tomorrow. Don't be late. It was a pleasure. Those
were all journalists.
NP. It's a good thing that there are men here as well.
AK. Yes, it is. There are a lot of men working with us. The head of the I Saw Harassment
initiative is a man and it has equal numbers of men and women members, which is important.
NP. Things are changing.
AK. Yes, there are changes.
NP. What were we saying? You were telling me about being independent. How do you see the
role of ACT in all these changes in Egypt now?
AK. I see that is has developed in the sense that it has conjoined many youth groups of both
sexes, which is very important to get in fresh perspectives and find out how they youth see
things and how they reach out to people. This is perhaps what made us more dynamic. They
have a lot of weight in the decision making process and we are also learning from them. I think
that's also very important.
NP. Let me go back to the time before the revolution? You mentioned you were a member of a
group called Egyptian Women for Change. What were the goals of this movement?
AK. \Ne were emphasizing the importance of women's issues and that women from different
backgrounds and affiliations who believe in women's rights, equality and freedom should stand
together and not be divided in different organizations, so that they could become a more
organized movement. This was very important because then we could agree on the planning of
protests and united vision. This was the main goal; to form one organized women's movement
that joins all the organizations together, so that they are not limited by the framework of an
organization.
NP. Which year did the movement start?
AK. It started in 2010. Before the revolution.
NP. Were there different political currents within the movement?
AK. It was mostly leftists and Nasserites. It didn't really matter which political side they
belonged to. What was important for us was that they believe in women's rights.
NP. So your field of work is within the CEDAW?
AK. Not only that. All women's issues and all the law restricting women's rights, whether in civil
status law or exercising political rights. Any law that infringes on women's rights. Matter of
7


discrimination and the CEDAW are of course very important. We must stand up to
discrimination in education, health care and all the other aspects, because it's all one package
that's indivisible. We are also fighting for a law against domestic abuse and sexual harassment,
which were also very central in our work.
NP. For about 20 years, there has been an international campaign against organizations
[27:24:04]
AK. Of course. Even now there are such campaigns that always emerge in the times of political
confusion, unrest and corruption. This problem has always been there and I think it'll be around
for a long time, but in the end you continue your work under any circumstances. We have to
expect this all the time.
NP. Do you think things are going to change now?
AK. Immediately? No. I think change is going to take a long time and a lot of patience. People
need to get organized and know how to plan. The matter is linked with changes on a political
level, on an educational level, on a health care level, on an unemployment level... Egypt needs a
lot of work and time until we can say that... It's still early.
NP. What's the most difficult part of your work? From the beginning up to now.
AK. I think the most difficult thing is to change masculine thinking, whether in media or public
discussions. Also, to be to stay consistent in your ways and stay connected with the people. You
know what I mean? Moving around a lot is very tiring and you have to always keep your
relationship with the people by always having something new to offer, so that you are doing
something with the people. I was also attacked in media while the Brotherhood was in power. I
got threats on my phone, because I was speaking my mind in the media and fighting them. That
was the only difficult time, but it wasn't a big deal. I didn't care about the threatening phone
call; many others were getting them too. I didn't feel that I was in danger.
NP. What was the most important thing you've done in your line of work?
AK. I think the most important things are these two initiatives that we started now. Also, being
in the media has helped my ideas reach many people and they would contact me from different
governorates and we'd work together. That intensified my work when I would do there. So I
think that's the most important thing.
TAPE 2
AK. ...Writing, too, keeps you close to the people. Are you leaving?
NP. What's your best memory about your work?
8


AK. I think it would have to be when I would go to Al-Minya and sit with women either on the
ground or on the roof and make the 'puppets'. We would laugh and talk about how we would
do the scenes. It was nice because it was 'funny' and it brought us closer together. It made me
know a lot about the women. It's different than when you read about it in books. You got to
know varied, different and enriching examples and they give strength and a feeling of being
alive. It was wonderful.
NP. Do you think you will carry on working until...?
AK. I keep saying that I've done enough, but then I can't even sit at home for half an hour
without doing anything. I can sit to write or something like that. But I don't think people like us
can just stop. We need to keep going. This is my life. It's a wonderful thing to keep on working,
because it's what keeps you alive and active. That means if I stop, I'll die.
NP. Is there anything that I haven't asked you about that you'd like to add?
AK. I can't think of anything.
NP. Any activities you were a part of that I didn't ask about?
AK. No, there isn't anything. The only think you didn't know about was the writing and I've told
you about that.
NP. When did you start writing?
AK. I was first published four years ago. But I had been writing for a long time, but I didn't
publish. I didn't have the courage to publish my literary works, until an author read my work
and encouraged me to publish. You don't know sometimes.
NP. Which do you prefer: The writing or working with people?
AK. They're linked together. The writing is something personal and there's a time for that, but I
write about people's lives. What enriches my writing are the people. All my short stories are
inspired by people's lives. They two don't contradict each other. They complete one another.
But of course, the writing needs more time and concentration. That's why I wake at 4am, which
is the only time I can write.
NP. Very good.
AK. Unbelievable. It's the director Marwan Al-Kashef. I don't know if you know him?
NP. I've heard of him
AK. He also supported me, which was something very important.
9


Full Text
Interview with Azza Kamel
2014

TAPE 1

Nicola Pratt (later NP.): Can I start by asking when and where you were born?
Azza Soliman (later AS.): I was born in Cairo in 1960.
NP. Did you grow up in Cairo?
AS. Yes, I grew up in Cairo, but I’ve been to all the governorates of Egypt.
NP. As a child?
AS. No. After I turned 18, because I had joined a women’s group; the New Woman Foundation (NWF) and I started to tour the governorates and do volunteer work and so on.
NP. What did your mother and father do for a living?
AS. My mother had teaching degree and work as a teacher. My father had a degree in Agriculture. Both of them worked. My worked all her life.
NP. What did you study at university?
AS. First, I studies ‘astronomy’ and was supposed to do my doctorate also in astronomy, but I didn’t, because I couldn’t travel to Russia or the USA. After that, I did a master’s degree and my doctorate in ‘Civic Education’.
NP. Which university did you attend?
AS. Cairo University, but I travelled to the USA for six months because my doctoral thesis was a ‘comparative study’ between Egypt and the USA. So, I spent six months in the US visiting organizations and studying the civic education activities and studies.
NP. Do you have a certain powerful memory from your childhood?
AS. What kind of memory?
NP. A memory from your family life, public life or national event?
AS. I think the most important event for me, although I was a child at the time, was the 1967 war. I remember when the air raids would take place, we’d turn off the lights and we’d paint the windows dark blue. I think that’s one of the most powerful memories.
NP. After that, do you remember any important events?
AS. Of course. When Sadat went to Israel that was a very important event at the time, because it was a shock for the people and it was something that affected us all.
NP. Did you talk about it at home?
AS. All the time. We were all shocked at how this could happen.
NP. Did you attend Cairo University?
AS. Yes.
NP. During that time were you a member of any groups?
AS. I was a member of the New Woman group before it became the New Woman Foundation. I was young at the time. Everybody was eight or nine years older than me and it was the first experience that shaped my feminist awareness as part of an organization. That was my important formative phase. When I was still in middle school, I used to go to the University to see what the political activists there were doing, so I already formed a relationship with them in my younger years.
NP. Why were you interested in these activities?
AS. I don’t know. I used to read a lot. I also got married very young. My husband, who was nine years my senior, was also a political activist and he introduced me to this world. I was excited about all of it, although I didn’t go through any difficult personal experiences. My parents were very kind and they didn’t discriminate between the sons and the daughters. But, I could feel from the people around me that many women and girls were suffering. I also felt it in some of my female classmates at school and university, that there was something wrong. I had much more freedom than they did. I always felt that they were oppressed and treated unfairly.
NP. Which year did you enroll at university?
AS. I don’t remember exactly. I think it was 198NP.
NP. So it was after the students’ movement.
AS. Yes, but I had lived through the students’ movement when I was younger. Because I was involved with them, so I knew them all.
NP. What sort of things did you do in the New Woman Group?
AS. When we first started we were doing a lot of reading, because it was a research circle. Each of us would read a book and then present it to the others. We also wrote for a magazine called the New Woman. I would take part in the discussion circles and write some articles. We would also go visit some women at their homes and listen to what they had to say. We would also watch movies that were pro-women. We would also study the experiences of women’s groups in other countries, by meeting delegations that would come to Egypt and sometimes we travel to meet some.
NP. How many people were part of the group?
AS. There was nearly 20 of us.
NP. Did you feel that this was something new in the women’s movement in Egypt?
AS. Yes, of course. We had read the history of women’s movements in Egypt and the world and we were very serious about what we were doing. We were doing a very good job informing and educating ourselves. We started looking in subjects like working women and violence against women. We were the first group to address the subject of violence against women. It was forbidden to talk about violence against women at that time. That was a very important issue. Also, a woman’s right to make decisions about her life. These were all very strange topics for people at that time.
NP. Are you still with the NWF?
AS. Yes, I’m a member of the NWF. I’m one of the founding members. We always work together, although there’s another center, but we work together in all the coalitions and activities.
NP. Do you still feel that the NWF is different than other groups?
AS. There are new groups that are also doing great work, such as the Women’s Forum for Research and Training, Nazra and the Women and Memory Forum. Nowadays there are groups that are important and influential. Back in the day, there was only the NWF, which was an advantage.
NP. I read that you are also a member of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.
AS. Yes, I’m one of the founders. One it was first founded, I became a member, like many other intellectuals. I was very proud of that, because it was very important and promising at the time. It helped grow our awareness about political issues and what the situation of women’s issues was like in political discourse, that’s why it was something very important. Did you read my CV?
NP. I read it online.
AS. Oh, online. Do you know that I’ve never looked myself up in the internet? I’m always surprised by people telling me things about myself.
NP. Really?
AS. Yes.
NP. There’s a lot of stuff – all good.
AS. No, I don’t care if it’s good or bad. I’m not worried about what’s written there.
NP. There’s also an Azza Kamel.
AS. I know Azza Kamel. She does something at the society called Alwan. I write as well. Did you know I was a writer?
NP. Oh, really?
AS. I write in Shurouk. You can read my articles and I also write short stories. I have two short story collections published and the third will be published next month.
NP. Can you tell me more about you experience at the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights?
AS. The Egyptian Organization was founded by some of the most important people in Egypt. It had people of all walks of life: young men and women, people from my generation and the older generation. People had big expectations for it, because we didn’t have any other human rights organizations. We started on a voluntary basis and with very limited resources. I remember that the first thing we did for the organization was that a group of artists organized a gallery showing of their work and the money raised went to the Organization. It was very well received, everybody wanted to be a part of it and help out because it was something new in Egypt.
NP. You had mentioned that there were no other human rights organizations at the time. Were there political parties…?
AS. The political parties were very weak. Political life in Egypt was crippled and the political parties couldn’t do anything at all. That’s why this organization acted as a substitute for political parties and movements. Many politicians who had been part of the student movement were founding members of the organization in the seventies.
NP. After that you founded ACT.
AS. Yes, in 1990.
NP. Where did the idea for ACT come from?
AS. I got the idea because I saw that the voice of women in the villages all over Egypt must be heard. They need to find simple techniques to express themselves. So, when I started going to these villages, I found that if you want speak about something like health, you can’t just hold a lecture. So we started the center for appropriate communication techniques. We started using ‘puppets’, which they would make themselves. In Al-Minya, the puppet would be made with elements from the surrounding environment. They would create a scenario and we’d start talking with the women about health, education how to organize their lives, if they were victims of violence and so on. We’d also use popular theatre, posters, and folklore songs. So, we started off like this in many areas and we were also encouraging to also come to these areas and operate in the same way. We helped many women to organize themselves in societies in Upper Egypt areas. We started our work with that kind of people, not the elites. This was also something that set us apart. That we were using the tools from the elite society, but reaching out the simple and marginalized women. After that we did a lot of work on fighting violence against women. We worked on education by founding one-room schools and worked on the cultural aspect for allowing females to attend schools without paying fees. A main contribution of our center in these villages was to train other societies and organizations on how to present women’s issues in these areas. I also focused on gender issues, because I was part of the first groups that went in 1994 to London to do Gender Studies. We started working on this subject with societies and foundations, then we realized that we can’t affect change in women’s issues without concentrating on media. So, we focused on studying the way women are portrayed in the media and we have many studies about how women are portrayed whether in caricatures, music videos, in the press and in drama. We founded the Egyptian Network for Monitoring the Image of Women and Men in the Media and later a regional network that included Morocco, Tunisia and… We just had a meeting not too long ago. They do annual monitoring of all kinds media. That’s something very important, because we saw the importance of media during the Arab Spring. Or what is referred to as the Arab Spring, which has become more of an autumn.
NP. So it’s safe to say that you are concerned with the social aspects.
AS. And the legal aspects of course. We also did a lot of work with parliamentary and local council election candidates. We’ve been working with women candidates since 1996. Some have even won in elections. Our field of work includes violence against women, women’s political engagement, the way men and women are portrayed in media and education and we reach women from all social backgrounds. Lately we started two initiatives we called Fou’ada Watch and I Saw Harassment. The first deals with any abuses against women and the second deals with the subject of sexual harassment by spreading awareness and training volunteers in this field. It also does a lot campaigns in different governorates.
NP. Do you feel that there is any relation between the social and political aspects?
AS. Of course. Where does politics come from if not from the society? You can’t separate the two. But when you’re working on social matters you need to be close to the people. This gives you a platform and popularity so that when the people see you again in a political context, they can relate to you more and you’re now just part of the detached elite, but that you can relate to them and that you are talking to them. So it’s important to have this combination, because the political aspect on its own is not enough. The idea is development based on rights; a ‘rights-based approach’. This is the direction we’re moving in. We’ve also made a big contribution to women’s right in the constitution in cooperation with other organizations I told you about. It was a difficult time for us and we were completely immersed in this procedure all the time. We went to all the governorates and ask the people what they think should be part of the new Egyptian constitution in general and especially concerning women. We then issued a document. I can gather these documents and give them to you. But there still many abuses against women. We still haven’t achieved everything we set out to achieve. You know all the…
NP. Did you take part in the January 25th demonstrations?
AS. Of course. I was even there when the supports of the Mubarak regime attacked the protestors while riding on camelback.
NP. Why was it important for you to take part?
AS. We’ve been dreaming of this kind of change since we were born and this was our dream being realized; that we’d see change in the Egyptian society, that people speak out, say what they want and challenge the oppressive system. All these things we’ve been fighting for our entire lives so we had to be part of it. We couldn’t stay away.
NP. Did you have any friends with you?
AS. Yes, of course. I also had my two children with me. My friends also had their children with them. Whole families were there.
NP. During the January 25th demonstration, were you just thinking of that moment or were you think of the future?
AS. It was a dream coming true. We were extremely hopeful that change will happen, so we were thinking of what we want and presenting our demands for the future. There were many discussions with politicians, friends and even people who were against the revolution to see what we can do for the future.
NP. What do you think of the developments from the time Mubarak left until now?
AS. I feel that we’re still in the formative process and we’ll need a long time. We still haven’t realized the dream of the revolution or our main slogans, because of the Muslim Brotherhood. Now the Brotherhood is gone, but people are behaving as if there was no January 25th Revolution, which is supposed to be the core of it all. Many parties are involved and it’s not the way we dreamt it. It’s much bigger than what we though at that time. Slowly, it gets clearer that the price of freedom is a hefty one and that’s still early and we’ll need years to achieve what we want, because it’s not all in our hands. The same is true for women’s right, we have only achieved very little and it’s not worth mentioning. But, I’m optimistic. I’m optimistic because the Egyptian aren’t the way they used to be. Even though this is a confused time, I am confident they’ll know the right way to go.
NP. Were you also part of any other movement or organization other that ACT?
AS. I was also part of Egyptian Women for Change, which was founded before the revolution. But after the revolution I wasn’t part of any organization, because I wanted to be independent, but I’m not against the movements. I think it’s very important and that the work they do is important. Maybe it’s just the way I am. I want to be bolder and independent in my decisions. When you’re on your own you have more courage to do things. That the way I see it, I might be wrong. Wa alykum al Salam. We’ll see you tomorrow. Don’t be late. It was a pleasure. Those were all journalists.
NP. It’s a good thing that there are men here as well.
AS. Yes, it is. There are a lot of men working with us. The head of the I Saw Harassment initiative is a man and it has equal numbers of men and women members, which is important.
NP. Things are changing.
AS. Yes, there are changes.
NP. What were we saying? You were telling me about being independent. How do you see the role of ACT in all these changes in Egypt now?
AS. I see that is has developed in the sense that it has conjoined many youth groups of both sexes, which is very important to get in fresh perspectives and find out how they youth see things and how they reach out to people. This is perhaps what made us more dynamic. They have a lot of weight in the decision making process and we are also learning from them. I think that’s also very important.
NP. Let me go back to the time before the revolution? You mentioned you were a member of a group called Egyptian Women for Change. What were the goals of this movement?
AS. We were emphasizing the importance of women’s issues and that women from different backgrounds and affiliations who believe in women’s rights, equality and freedom should stand together and not be divided in different organizations, so that they could become a more organized movement. This was very important because then we could agree on the planning of protests and united vision. This was the main goal; to form one organized women’s movement that joins all the organizations together, so that they are not limited by the framework of an organization.
NP. Which year did the movement start?
AS. It started in 2010. Before the revolution.
NP. Were there different political currents within the movement?
AS. It was mostly leftists and Nasserites. It didn’t really matter which political side they belonged to. What was important for us was that they believe in women’s rights.
NP. So your field of work is within the CEDAW?
AS. Not only that. All women’s issues and all the law restricting women’s rights, whether in civil status law or exercising political rights. Any law that infringes on women’s rights. Matter of discrimination and the CEDAW are of course very important. We must stand up to discrimination in education, health care and all the other aspects, because it’s all one package that’s indivisible. We are also fighting for a law against domestic abuse and sexual harassment, which were also very central in our work.
NP. For about 20 years, there has been an international campaign against organizations [27:24:04]
AS. Of course. Even now there are such campaigns that always emerge in the times of political confusion, unrest and corruption. This problem has always been there and I think it’ll be around for a long time, but in the end you continue your work under any circumstances. We have to expect this all the time.
NP. Do you think things are going to change now?
AS. Immediately? No. I think change is going to take a long time and a lot of patience. People need to get organized and know how to plan. The matter is linked with changes on a political level, on an educational level, on a health care level, on an unemployment level… Egypt needs a lot of work and time until we can say that… It’s still early.
NP. What’s the most difficult part of your work? From the beginning up to now.
AS. I think the most difficult thing is to change masculine thinking, whether in media or public discussions. Also, to be to stay consistent in your ways and stay connected with the people. You know what I mean? Moving around a lot is very tiring and you have to always keep your relationship with the people by always having something new to offer, so that you are doing something with the people. I was also attacked in media while the Brotherhood was in power. I got threats on my phone, because I was speaking my mind in the media and fighting them. That was the only difficult time, but it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t care about the threatening phone call; many others were getting them too. I didn’t feel that I was in danger.
NP. What was the most important thing you’ve done in your line of work?
AS. I think the most important things are these two initiatives that we started now. Also, being in the media has helped my ideas reach many people and they would contact me from different governorates and we’d work together. That intensified my work when I would do there. So I think that’s the most important thing.

TAPE 2

AS. ...Writing, too, keeps you close to the people. Are you leaving?
NP. What’s your best memory about your work?
AS. I think it would have to be when I would go to Al-Minya and sit with women either on the ground or on the roof and make the ‘puppets’. We would laugh and talk about how we would do the scenes. It was nice because it was ‘funny’ and it brought us closer together. It made me know a lot about the women. It’s different than when you read about it in books. You got to know varied, different and enriching examples and they give strength and a feeling of being alive. It was wonderful.
NP. Do you think you will carry on working until…?
AS. I keep saying that I’ve done enough, but then I can’t even sit at home for half an hour without doing anything. I can sit to write or something like that. But I don’t think people like us can just stop. We need to keep going. This is my life. It’s a wonderful thing to keep on working, because it’s what keeps you alive and active. That means if I stop, I’ll die.
NP. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to add?
AS. I can’t think of anything.
NP. Any activities you were a part of that I didn’t ask about?
AS. No, there isn’t anything. The only think you didn’t know about was the writing and I’ve told you about that.
NP. When did you start writing?
AS. I was first published four years ago. But I had been writing for a long time, but I didn’t publish. I didn’t have the courage to publish my literary works, until an author read my work and encouraged me to publish. You don’t know sometimes.
NP. Which do you prefer: The writing or working with people?
AS. They’re linked together. The writing is something personal and there’s a time for that, but I write about people’s lives. What enriches my writing are the people. All my short stories are inspired by people’s lives. They two don’t contradict each other. They complete one another. But of course, the writing needs more time and concentration. That’s why I wake at 4am, which is the only time I can write.
NP. Very good.
AS. Unbelievable. It’s the director Marwan Al-Kashef. I don’t know if you know him?
NP. I’ve heard of him
AS. He also supported me, which was something very important.


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