Zakaria: Is the Arab Spring bad for women?
Egyptian women shout political slogans during a demonstration to mark International Women's Day in Cairo on March 8, 2012. Hundreds of women marched through the Egyptian capital demanding the right to co-draft the country's new constitution. (Getty Images)
March 21st, 2012
03:37 PM ET

Zakaria: Is the Arab Spring bad for women?

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

Hundreds of you have submitted very thoughtful questions for me through FacebookTwitter and my blog. Here is my response to the question: Is the Arab Spring bad for women?

I think that overall the Arab Spring will be good for women. In the short run, however, the Arab Spring has opened the lid on a Pandora’s Box of problems, which have existed for decades, and are now being aired. Reactionary, illiberal forces that have been suppressed and repressed are coming to the fore. But I don’t think these forces will determine where the countries of the Arab Spring end up.

Take a look at a very rural, tribal society like Afghanistan, which does not have progressive attitudes toward women.  Nevertheless, the Taliban’s imposition of reactionary policies on women was very unpopular. Most men didn’t like it; most women didn’t like it.

Over time, Arab societies will find a way to accommodate new expressions of Islam with democracy and women’s empowerment. It’s not going to be on our time schedule, however. That’s the thing we really have to understand.

I was talking to Liberian peace activist and Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee about confronting female genital mutilation in Africa.  She argued that you have to work on changing the culture slowly. Change is not going to happen because Hillary Clinton makes a speech about it. These are deep-rooted practices.

Now, they are abhorrent practices and I would love to wave a magic wand and get rid of them, but we have to recognize that if we want these changes to be incorporated into the tradition of the country, we have to work on education and modernizing from the ground up. It’s frustrating but that’s the reality and that will be the reality for women’s rights in the Arab world.

It can’t be something that happens because it is decreed from on high – and certainly not from Washington. It is going to happen as these societies gradually modernize, which is happening, albeit more slowly than we would like.

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Topics: From Fareed • Reader Q&A • Women

soundoff (231 Responses)
  1. larry

    Yes. This is Obama's attack on women and to install Sharia law throughout the world.

    March 23, 2012 at 6:08 am | Reply
    • Patrick

      You lie so badly.
      Do you have any proof? Anything at all?

      March 23, 2012 at 6:28 am | Reply
    • Christian_USA

      Do you even know what Sharia law is? i suggest you read it from true and authentic sources, not people like Patrick, to first understand what it is before writting about it!!!

      March 23, 2012 at 7:07 am | Reply
      • Patrick

        Well Abdul from Iran enlighten us on the tenets of Sharia Law.

        March 23, 2012 at 9:02 am |
      • Patrick

        Hey Abdul, we are still waiting for you to provide us with a b a s i c d e f i n i t i o n of Sharia Law.
        Come on buddy, habibi, "hammed, teach me something.

        March 23, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  2. Mike In SA

    Amazing how this guy continually tries to slap lipstick on a pig. In this case he completely ignores that the regimes being toppled in the Arab Spring (while being more pro-woman than most) are being replaced by more hard-line Islamist regimes.These are not exactly free speech zones either. Because of this, the long-term future of women in the region is not bright at all.

    March 23, 2012 at 9:18 am | Reply
  3. suziecoyote

    "Reactionary, illiberal forces that have been suppressed and repressed are coming to the fore."

    Uh, the USA, too....

    March 23, 2012 at 10:27 am | Reply
    • Patrick

      Fatmahcamel- show me proof of what you are saying.
      You cannot make a statement, especially a deragatory statement without proof.

      March 24, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Reply
  4. MyIglooIsYourIgloo

    As long as Arabs follow a male-invented religion, women will never get decent treatment. Allah weeps.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:13 am | Reply
  5. DC

    Politicians here think they can export 'American style democracy' by funding guerrillas and giving guns to rebel groups. All this does is further destabilize nations that are already struggling. Dropping bombs on them won't fix much either. It's really just best to keep our distance from them.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:35 am | Reply
  6. Michael

    I dare say we won't be around for the many decades this will take to happen...... IF it ever does! Again, how are they going to change what the Koran says??? 'Control' is inherent throughout the Koran, unto beating your wife is okay. I treat my dog better than many of them treat their wives! As long as they swear by the Koran over common human decency, will anything ever really change?

    March 23, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Reply
  7. derp

    Arab spring....GOP primary....neither are very good for women.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Reply
  8. Syd Chaden

    The real question, that the politically correct media doesn't seem to want to face, is: "Is Islam bad for women?"
    If a Muslim answers: "Yes", then that Muslim is a heretic, which is punishable by death.
    If a Muslim answers: "No", then that Mulim is a man, since Muslim women would not dare answer.
    If a non-Muslim answers "Yes", that non-Muslim is an infidel.
    If a non-Muslim answers "No", that non-Muslim is an infidel, as well.
    Interestingly, the politically correct media doesn't seem to see anything wrong with that.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  9. Pertnear

    I couldn't believe the author wrote this piece – Arab Spring good for women? Really? The result of the Arab Spring will be the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and an even more radical view of Islam than ever for these countries. When the dust settles, the reigning government will make conservative Islam beliefs as laws. Did everyone forget what Libya's government did the minute they were in power? Declared the Nation Islamic and Sharia Law to be Implemented. What did the world think was going to happen?

    March 23, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Reply
  10. NorCalMojo

    I used to think Zakaria was incredibly naive. Now I think he's deliberately misleading.

    He knows what Western liberal weenies want to believe and he delivers.

    March 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Reply
  11. NorCalMojo

    When protesters celebrate their victory by gang raping a woman, it's usually not a good sign.

    March 23, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Reply
  12. RecycleD

    "I think that overall the Arab Spring will be good for women. ...Over time, Arab societies will find a way to accommodate new expressions of Islam with democracy and women’s empowerment. It’s not going to be on our time schedule, however."

    – How exactly is that good for women? So he's basically saying that women are taking a step backwards but in the future they MIGHT gain more than they are losing in the present.

    "It can’t be something that happens because it is decreed from on high – and certainly not from Washington. It is going to happen as these societies gradually modernize, which is happening, albeit more slowly than we would like."

    -But wasn't the Arab Spring mainly about demanding change from top to bottom? It seems hypocritical to say that women should have patience in demanding rights. That doesn't make any sense to me.

    March 23, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Reply
  13. Wasi Ahmed

    Islam gave rights to women in property, inheritance, marriage and divorce over 1400 years ago. The fact that chauvanist, materialist societies in Muslim countries do not implement these laws doesn't mean the laws do not exist.

    March 23, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      Could you please quote those references so that I could refer to them?
      You know, to educate myself.

      March 23, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Reply
      • Tahir

        Read Quran yourself you will find many more things about rights of women in quran.

        March 25, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  14. Ba'al

    So far it seems so since radical islamists are the ones taking power by ballot in Egypt and NATO coup in Libya.

    March 23, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Reply
  15. afterthought

    Their third world logic may be ruled by islam but not necessarily defined by it. There are many who do not actively practice their religion that also mistreat their family/wives, whatever. Religion is the easiest way to keep the sheep in the pen, and those archaic values have been handed down for centuries. You can't beat that out of them, only education and the chance for a society to evolve will change that. Perhaps someday the Allah wars will decrease and they will finally have the chance to grow a little.

    March 24, 2012 at 11:46 am | Reply
  16. tcaud

    I doubt these changes can happen at all. Some issues are held so sacred that people will always be willing to kill and die for them with abandon.

    March 24, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  17. deniz boro

    Social chnge of the Turkish women almost happened within a year after the Turkish War of Independance was fought and Republic of Turkey was founded. In 1930's Turkish women were given voting rights, sheriah rules on wearing headscarves were lifted.amongst other changes. Turkish women mostly took it by heart since these represented the freedom of Turkey after years of foreign mandates. Other countries with mostly Islamic population may not react the same. Although Turkey is populated by Islam people, each country has different roots. And Islam- like all other religions- can be interpreted differently by varous Muslim communities. The Turkish genious leader who made Turkey possible, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk has a saying:"You have to get down to the level of other people to rise them up to your own level".

    March 24, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Reply
  18. Tahir

    The Arab spring brought through terrorists and western support of terrorists will only bring terrorism to west just like the western support of Taliban against Russia in cold war.

    March 25, 2012 at 10:22 am | Reply
  19. Skorpio

    Christian Arabs as well as women are afraid to vote and participate in political parties of the "Arab Spring". The political movement only benefited Muslim males, minorities are still without equal rights and religious freedoms.

    March 25, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Reply
  20. newshead12

    Other cultures have different values and different ways of seeing the world. Arabs obviously want change, but it will most likely look nothing like the West.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Reply
  21. Hassan

    It is a very wrong thought that women and Christians are disadvantaged by the Arab spring. Women have taken a big and great role in all kinds of events in the Arab spring in different countries. They, like men, have also been victims of violence against objectors and protesters, not violence against women. Christians also have been participants in the Arab Spring, especially in Egypt, Muslims and Christians in Egypt have always been friends and allies, there has been problems between Muslim and Christian groups in several weeks that have been full of dissension. These problems have not targeted Muslims nor Christians, it targeted the unity between them. And again, it is really sad to see a lot of people still talking about women offended and have their rights taken away by Islamic or Arabic cultures. We Muslims have solved this problem more than a thousand years ago, and Muslim women see themselves satisfied with Islam, although sometimes media shows Islam wrong, by citing governments policies that are different from country to country and don't necessarily represent Islam. Please, give me a break! Stop talking about this issue, as we solved a long ago and you just did not even before a century.

    March 26, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Reply
  22. Jo

    Someone mentioned a Muslim Sisterhood. I'd like to see that. I'm no longer a big fan of religion (any religion), but I see some purpose in faith. Faith should not subvert reason or compassion, and the idea that a woman is: 1/2 the value of a man... a temptation if her hair or skin is exposed... and must be kept in ignorance her whole ridiculous and horrific.

    March 27, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Reply
    • gerald

      half is a bit much

      April 1, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Reply
  23. sielingfan

    "Is.... is Arab Spring BAD?"

    Yeah. I mean you shouldn't simplify it - it's a lot of things. But "Bad for women" is one of the top three.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  24. Jeff

    I think being Arab is bad for women.

    March 31, 2012 at 11:21 am | Reply
  25. gerald

    You have to give Muslims credit, they sure know how to handle their women, we should take a lesson.

    April 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Reply
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