Egypt: Laila Echoes Reverberate in the Land of the Nile

In its third year, the Kolena Laila campaign took a different turn, reaching out to women with no access to the Internet and giving them a chance to speak to the world.

The annual event, spearheaded by Egyptian female bloggers, aims at giving women, identified as Laila, a chance to speak up and have their say.

In the words of the organizers of the We Are All Laila campaign, the event geared at posting podcasts, featuring interviews with women from all walks of life:

“The third year of Laila brings about a wider range of participation to comprise other categories that do not have access to the internet, and still maintain the track line of the first year’s theme. This year’s theme is to gather audio testimonies and stories of elderly women, for instance grandmothers, and women who do not use the internet, due to social or economic reasons. Such authentic audio testimonies give an air of vividness and are rather expressive; they also stand as an audio archive of the experiences of older generations of mothers and grandmothers for generations to come. However, Laila’s main track line is still there: to write or record Laila’s problems and issues and having the speaking up opportunity.”

Not many female bloggers really adhered to this year's main idea, except for Bent Masreya [Ar], who uploaded an interview with an Egyptian girl and discussed with her the obstacles females face in Egypt.

Another blogger, Ma3t [Ar], chose to honor her late grandma by writing about her struggle with education in Egypt from 1944 to 1948.

As for Manal, she hosted her mother who intrigued us with her experience with the new neighborhood she has recently moved to, and how she is being seen as a “foreigner” because she doesn't cover her hair. She writes:

“فى المصعد تقابلت مع إحدى الجارات .. وتبادلنا الحديث .. وإذا بها تقول لى “إنت بتتكلمى عربى كويس قوى”. كان ردى التلقائى “أنا صعيدية يا حاجة”،
وردت “والنبى؟ .. أنا افتكرتك من الخواجات اللى ساكنيين فى الشقة اللى فوق”.
“I met with a neighbor in the elevator and we started chit-chatting. She remarked: “You speak Arabic very well.” My response was: “I am from Upper Egypt.” She then exclaimed: “I thought you are one of the foreigners living in the apartment upstairs”.

Manal's mother then continues:

ما حدث .. يحدث لى بأشكال مختلفة فى كثير من الأيام .. بعضها بذىء يتضمن الشتائم .. وبعضها برىء من الأطفال خصوصًا اللذين يقولون لى “هاللو”، فأنا امرأة فى الستين .. لا أرتدى الحجاب، ولا أجلل نفسى بالسواد .. وحيث أننى لا أبدو “متبرجة” ولا أبدوا ممن “يغوين الرجال ويفتنهن” –بسبب العمر طبعاً .. فلابد أننى خواجاية (وهو ما يتضمن أيضًا مسيحية”). لكنه يحدث أيضًا لصديقاتى ولزميلاتى المسيحيات اللاتى يحكين عن معاناتهن اليومية فى المواصلات والمصالح الحكومية، وفى المدارس .. والعيادات

من المؤلم أن أعامل باعتبارى “الآخر” فى وطنى .. لمجرد أننى لا أريد أن |أكون سوى نفسى .. ولمجرد أننى لا أقبل أن أوضع فى القوالب التى تفرض على أجساد النساء .. أو لمجرد أن دينى مختلف. ”

“What happened happens a lot in different forms; some are nasty forms that would include cursing, some are pretty innocent – coming from kids who would say “hello”…I am a 60-year-old unveiled woman, who is not immersed in black. And since I am a no make up persona who doesn't look like someone who is into seducing men, I must therefore be a “foreigner,” which definitely entails being a Christian. This happens to my Christian colleagues and friends too. They tell me about their daily suffering in public transportation, schools, clinics, etc.
“It is agonizing to be considered “the other” in my own country just for being myself, just because I do not accept the uniforms imposed on women's bodies, or just because I am of a different religion.”

The diversity of the posts across the Egyptian blogsphere added to the authenticity of the campaign and enforced it.

Noran el Shamly states clearly that she is no Laila:

“جملة انا ليلى معناها، انا مقهورة، وبما انى شايفة ان القهر مش مقصور على المرأةلأن ممكن جدا ألاقي رجل مقهورفهل ممكن ألاقي راجل يقبل إنه يقول على نفسه أنا ليلى؟
“Being Laila means that I am frustrated and I see that frustration has no gender as it is quite possible to find a frustrated man. I wonder if it is possible to find a man who would accept calling himself Laila.”

Thankfully, the Laila Syndrome was not restricted to Egypt only and reached other Arab countries as well. Saudi Jeans hosted Maha El Faleh who urged women to stand out for themselves and claim their rights.

Al Faleh said:

“My message here is not to my country, and not to the government because their role should be in another chapter, but to the girls and women of my country: get off your high horse, look around you, speak up! Most of the oppression is not made by our country, it’s made by our silence, by our lack of interest, or sometimes because we are too oblivious to our surroundings. Look out for each other, help those who didn’t have the chance to speak, give them hope and guidance, we should stop expecting our county to make decisions for us”

Between supporters and opponents, here are the voices which took part in the Laila campaign.


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