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Feminism and Authoritarianism in the Middle East: A Workshop in Strategies, Alliances, and Challenges

The Feminism and Authoritarianism in the Middle East workshop on April 3-4, 2014 was centered around recent revolutionary developments through the Middle East and the important work of feminists in tackling the local and international complexities of the struggle for women’s rights in the face of political Islam, increasing sectarianism and militarism and new forms of authoritarianism.  Eight guest speakers discussed the feminist movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, and Egypt.

Representing Turkey, Professor Ayşe Gül Altınay and Ms. Ezgi Koçak presented “‘Love is Organizing’: Feminist and LGBT Readings of Gezi Protests and their Political Background”.  Opening with the protest song “Tencere Tava Havasi”/“The Sound of Pots and Pans”, the discussion of the significance of the 2013-2014 Gezi protests to larger feminist and LGBT rights movements was framed through the symbolism of five important protest slogans:

·         “Everywhere is resistance”

·         “Nothing in the park is for sale”

·         “Everyone is born free”

·         “Love is organizing”

·         “We will not be anybody’s soldiers”

These different slogans illustrate the non-hierarchical, nonviolent, anti-militarism, and utopian nature of these protests.  Individuals from diverse age groups, classes, ethnicities, religions, political beliefs, and sexual orientations gathered together at Gezi Park and around the country in opposition against the government’s gentrification and commercialization of public space, control over social gathering, and use of police violence.  Neighborhood-level gatherings encouraged communities to intersect in new ways and find common, equal ground.  These unlikely alliances and forms of co-resistance then provided new opportunities for feminists and LGBT activists to change the tone and terminology of the protests and shape a more positive, inclusive, and non-discriminatory social space. 

With local elections in early April, protestors gathered again to protest cases of fraud and to protect the ballots.  Though the non-hierarchical nature of the Gezi protests means that sustaining and organizing the movement is difficult, the renewal of these otherwise fragile alliances to support more democratic, free elections is hopeful.  The true challenge will be to translate some of the lessons and experiences of the Gezi protests into a sustainable politics for all.


This event was sponsored by: Center for the Study of the Middle East, Institute for European Studies, Department of Gender Studies, Center for the Study of Global Change, Inner Asian & Uralic National Resource Center, School of Oriental and African Studies-London, British Council