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Silence against Political Rape

Arab Women's Subalterniy During Political Struggles

Ola Abdalkafor

Arab Spring movements in many Arab countries revealed a gap at the heart of Arab society and politics: the large-scale subalternity of Arab women in such movements. In this essay, I hypothesize that, with few exceptions, Arab women have always avoided participation in social and political activism because of their fear of political rape – raping women as punishment during political turmoil. The essay traces the history of political rape through different stages of Arab history. The examples are taken from history, literature and international reports and they mainly cover three countries: Syria, Egypt, and Libya. These examples prove that vulnerable women’s horror at any possibility of their being sexually abused and then rejected by their families and society has always haunted them, preventing them from struggling or protesting. The essay concludes that subalternity is the only stance from which Arab women can encounter political rape. Then, the essay discusses the subalternity of Arab women in the light of the thought of the postcolonial critic Gayatri Spivak. This argument leads to the contention that the silence of Arab women vulnerable to political rape should not be considered passive and that feminist theories and actions cannot be successful in supporting subaltern Arab women without the ethical responsibility theorized by Spivak as the most appropriate approach to the subaltern female. This approach entails respecting subaltern Arab women’s culture and fears and avoiding any attempt to make them copies of the European feminist self. Subaltern Arab women who are afraid of being sexually abused have the right to protect their bodies and stick to their culture while still participating in public life.