Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Women in Egypt Today

Greetings from Cairo. This is our last week of classes. Second year students are working to finish their dissertations in time for them to be reviewed (and approved) for graduation the end of this month. The class I am teaching in Christianity in the Middle East is studying the dynamics after Christians were tolerated and then took control of the state goveranace in the later Roman Empire. Sometimes their zeal to "purge" society of pagan influences reached beyond legal limits and passed to the hands of violent groups.
Our first picture is of a neo-platonic woman scholar who lived (and died) at the beginning of the 5th century CE. She died at the hands of a Christian mob. Her name was Hypatia of Alexandria. This image is part of a large fresco by the Italian Renaissance artist Rafael. He places her among the philosophers of the ancient world in The School of Athens, which can be seen in the Vatican in Rome. She is significant because she shows the intellectual level of some women in the period of the late Roman/early Christian empire. She also illustrates what some Christians did who felt it their "duty" to eradicate the last vestiges of pagan philosophy, and philosophers.

You can read more about her and how she became something of a cult figure in Europe at the time of the Enlightment. She even has a lunar crater named after her, recognizing her achievements in philosophy and astronomy. She was part of the cultural achievement of Alexandria during this time. She died because people felt that she was interfering in the political matters between the civil prefect of the city and its patriarch, Cyril. She has been portrayed as the epitome of "vulnerable truth and beauty."

Our next picture brings us up to the present, and captures the image of a woman walking through the central court at the al-Alzar mosque and madrasa (school) in Islamic Cairo. This place has been the center of Muslim activities since the 12th century. You can see that she has on the traditional head scarf and long robe that many women in Egypt still wear when they are out in public.
This serves to introduce us to the theme of women in contemporary Egyptian society. Dr. Hoda Awad, an Egypian scholar who is on the board of directors of our seminary and also has been a very helpful member of the graduate studies committee while I have been here, has written a thoughtful and frank assessment of the legal status of women in Egypt, and possibilities for "reform and social inertia' at the present time. If you would like me to e-mai you a copy, I would be happy to do so. She often appears regularly on Egyptian T.V. to comment on national and international topics.

The article she wrote is too long and detailed to review here. She does trace the efforts to reform the laws in Egypt during the 20th century, even with the resistance of many traditional forces in the Islam community. She points out that Egypt has been more progressive than other middle eastern lands in its efforts to secure justice for women within the home and in public space. She asks the question at the end: can the "issue of women's equality be achieved by presidential decrees, inserting new constitutional articles, or should it be supported by the civil institutions, professional syndicates, political parties, non governmental organizations, intellectuals, and by the large popular sector?" These are questions yet to be answered here. I thought you might be interested in this topic. You can writre me at rogerrab39@yahoo.com with comments, or to request a copy of the 21 page article.
My last picture shows a sign outside the railway station in Minya, a city in upper Egypt I visited at Easter. It shows people who are victims of domestic violence, abuse or persecution, and calls on them and their families to report such crimes to government officials. I may have some time to research this and other topics about Egyptian society as my activities at the seminary wind down in June. (I am returning to California in late June and will be happy to arrange to visit with your congregation).
My term with Global Missions ends the middle of August. Then I plan to settle again in southern California and be available for long term interim work).
Until my next blog which will picture our graduation ceremonies at the end of June, this is Roger Rogahn signing off.
Peace and justice.

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