June 22, 2012

Egypt's Muslim Sisterhood: How We See Them or How They See Themselves?

This Time photo essay by Pauline Beugnies fascinates me—not for what the women are doing but for how these photographs are perceived by Western eyes and how they are slightly (maybe allowably) subversive. Veiled and separate, these women are political players who note their inequality while participating in it. There is a degree of engaging visual subtlety here – kohl is the only permissible make-up, yet the woman applying it is reflected in the same mirror with more Westernized women. Even while looking at herself as would any woman in the West.

There is woman as nurturer of a future (and perhaps, some day) unveiled generation segregated from men by an “artificial stream.”

And then, the very plainly veiled (no frills, all adherence) student organizers in the bottom photo. One woman is nearly indistinguishable; another appears to be looking over her shoulder.  In my Western mind it begs the question of whether garment strictures, separateness, enforced inferiority will satisfy women who become empowered through political action.

— Karen Hull

Full slide show at Time World.

(photos: Pauline Beugnies/Out of Focus Top photo caption: Eman puts khol on her eyes in the bathroom of a shopping mall in Cairo. It is the only make-up she allows herself in accordance with Islamic tradition and rules. Middle photo caption: Eman with her niece during an “iftar,” the dinner that ends the day of fasting during Ramadan, organized by the Muslim brotherhood. She and her women colleagues sit apart from the men, separated by an artificial stream. Bottom photo caption: Zeinab and Heba, students at a university in Alexandria, by a poster proclaiming support for Palestine. Both women are both active in the university, organizing remedial classes, transportation, campaign support and fundraising.)

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Karen Donley
See other posts by Karen here.

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