The protests sweeping the Middle East are driven by a second revolution — the empowerment of Arab women.
“The visibility of women as change mobilizers, political leaders and activists, followers and supporters, has never been as high as today,” Nadia Al-Sakkaf, editor-in-chief of the Yemen Times, the country’s pioneer English-language newspaper, wrote in an e-mail.
Al-Sakkaf, herself one of the women she describes, will speak March 31 at Leo Baeck Temple, together with another newswoman, Felice Friedson, president and CEO of The Media Line (TML), based in Jerusalem.
In Yemen, one of the icons of the youth protests is a woman, Tawakul Karman, who, with six other women, has been staging freedom protests weekly for the past three years, Al-Sakkaf reports.
In Tunisia, too, where the regional wave of protests started, women were also on the front lines from the beginning, but in Egypt, and even more so in conservative Libya, they have remained largely in the background.
But even in the two latter countries, women have provided protesters with food, blankets and emotional support. Some have been so creative as to bake bread and cookies inscribed with such phrases as “get out” and “game over.”
“In some isolated cases,” Al-Sakkaf writes, “women have poured hot water from their windows on security men, who were attacking the protesters.”
Al-Sakkaf worked her way up from reporter to top job on the Yemen Times and has broken major stories, such as the exploitation of child brides in her country.
She holds degrees in computer science and information systems management, perhaps not surprising in a society in which women are frequently better educated than men, said Friedson in a phone call from Israel.
The American-Jewish woman and her husband, Michael, founded TML in 2000 and now have a staff of 10 full-time and 12 part-time correspondents covering the Middle East.
In 2000, she established the Mideast Press Club to bring Israeli and Palestinian journalists together, and created quite a stir when she brought a group of Palestinian reporters to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, for the first time.
The two newswomen will discuss the current democracy movement throughout the Middle East and the role of women, joined by Senior Rabbi Ken Chasen of Leo Baeck Temple.