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

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