June 16th, 2013
12:45 AM ET

'Everybody benefits from girls being educated'

"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with Egyptian-born columnist Mona Eltahawy about the situation in Turkey and her role in the upcoming documentary ‘Girl Rising,’ which is premiering this Sunday on CNN at 9 p.m. ET.

How does it look to you, from Cairo, what is going on in Taksim Square?

I think the most important thing about what's happening in Turkey is that for me, it seems like Turks are trying to find a middle ground or a third way between what used to be just kind of the Ataturk, nationalist way and the Islamist way, as modern as it is, of Erdogan. And for me, as a Muslim from the Middle East, that's really important.

You’ve spent 10 years in America and gone back to Cairo. Do you worry that while you would like to see a more secular republic, you're worried by Erdogan's Islamism or the Muslim Brotherhood's Islamism?


On the ground, that stuff is pretty popular. So when Erdogan has put in these moderate restrictions on the sale of retail alcohol or he talks about women being allowed to wear the head scarf, in my experience, all my friends in Istanbul hate him for it. But the country at large likes it, because [this is a] 99 percent Muslim country, most people are devout. That actually resonates a lot more than people think. I assume the same is true in Egypt. Do you worry that your preferences are actually the preferences of a very small urban, kind of educated class?

I often compare the Muslim Brotherhood and their platform to the Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. who love to tout moral values. It's very easy to tout moral values, to be against abortion, to be against same-sex marriage here. And in Egypt and in the Middle East, it's very easy to say I'm going to ban alcohol and I'm going to make sure that all girls can or should wear head scarves. That is too easy and that is a violation of people's rights.

More from CNN: Meet the girls of 'Girl Rising'

So, you know, be as Muslims as you want, be as religious as you want. But I think that the goal of the revolution was never about banning alcohol. The goal of the revolution was never about head scarves.  The goal of the revolution was bread, liberty and social justice. And in that spirit, I think that we should be aiming for rights that encompasses everybody and their way of life. So I think when it comes to women especially, we’re unfortunately very cheap bargaining chips. But what helps us is that women were side by side with men on the street.

More from CNN: 'Dear girls of the world'

This revolution is ours, as well. It might not have been a revolution for women's rights, but now that we started the political revolution, if we don't have a social sexual revolution that works on the ground, that political revolution will fail. It's not about replacing one misogynistic patriarch with another.

Tell me about ‘Girl Rising.’

Well, it's a fantastic documentary that paired women writers with girls from their countries.  So I was paired with a wonderful 13-year-old girl in Egypt who was a survivor of rape. And I myself was sexually assaulted close to Tahrir Square in November of 2011. So when the two of us met, we had a lot to share.  But, you know, there I was at the time, you know, 44 years-old, 43 years-old.  And she was 13. And the spirit of this girl, who had never had any kind of formal education, the way that she fought back, the way she and her mother went to the police to demand justice for the rape that she survived and her enthusiasm for education and her mother's agreement to, you know, to have her daughter be paired with me and have her story told was just wonderful. And, you know, I urge everyone to watch the film, because it really goes to the heart of this, that when girls are educated, everybody benefits. So I'm glad CNN is showing it and I was glad to be a part of it.

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