Arab Feminism in the Arab Spring: Discourses on Solidarity, the Socio-Cultural Revolution, and the Political Revolution in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen

By Stephanie Maravankin
Clocks and Clouds
2017, Vol. 7 No. 2 | pg. 1/1


Over the last couple of decades, women-spearheaded social movements have mobilized to leave a lasting impression on civil societies across the globe. The Arab Spring challenged old ideas of oppressive regimes and signaled possibilities for change, originating in Tunisia and spreading to Arab countries throughout the Middle East. This paper explores the existing literature on political opportunity structure, resource mobilization theory, and framing theory as a means to understand the question: How did collective action frames during the Arab Spring shape the discourses on Arab feminism? My research relies on the arguments put forth by the theoretical frameworks to shape the analysis of Arab feminism in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen during the Arab Spring. The analysis breaks down into three different themes: solidarity, the socio-cultural revolution, and the political revolution. These discourses uniquely feed into my methodology by providing the contextual foundation for what drives the revolution, referred to as the Arab Spring. After analyzing the statements made by Arab activists and organizers between December 2010 and December 2013 in media sources, my findings shed light on the scholarly literature I reviewed; each discourse is a representation of a theory in practice. Moreover, I find that collective action frames during the Arab Spring shaped the discourses on Arab feminism in three ways: (1) furthered the movement of Arab feminism; (2) redefined what the Arab world meant for Arab feminists; (3) challenged singular-identity definitions of Arab feminists.


Social movements have been a means for change across the globe for centuries. Women's social movements in particular have been a leading force in shaping social movement outcomes given their strong collective action advocacy strategies; one example is the increase in the presence of women in political spheres. Social movements are "organized set(s) of constituents pursuing a common political agenda of change through collective action" (Batliwala 2012, 3). More specifically, women's movements do three things: bring women into political activities, empower women to challenge the roles they serve, and create networks among women that heighten women's ability to recognize that gender relations are in dire need of change (Ferree and McClurg Mueller 2004, 577). The Arab Spring provides a context within which scholars can examine the "authenticity of local knowledge" that stemmed as a result of political and social activism on behalf of Arab women (Newsom and Lengel 2012). Originating in Tunisia and spreading to Arab countries throughout the Middle East, the Arab Spring challenged old ideas of oppressive regimes and signaled possibilities for change. This paper explores the theories of political opportunity structure, resource mobilization theory, and framing theory as a means to understand the question: How did collective action frames during the Arab Spring shape the discourses on Arab feminism?

Focusing on the discourses of solidarity, socio-cultural revolution, and political revolution, I analyze the official and media sources from Arab feminists and United States Congressional members on the involvement and role of women in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen during the Arab Spring. The three discourses discussed in this paper reflect how Arab feminists portrayed themselves and changed the manifestation of Arab feminism from December 2010 to December 2013. In this interpretive discourse analysis, I find how the collective action frames examined furthered the movement of Arab feminism, redefined what the Arab world meant for Arab feminists, and challenged the singular-identity definitions of Arab feminists. The paper examines existing scholarly literature to lay the foundation for the research process and assesses the methodological considerations and historical context. Importantly, the following analysis of Arab feminism in the Arab Spring illuminates several core themes – inclusivity, mobilization, equality, symbolism, and transformation – that shaped the conception of the empty signifier: Arab Spring. Lastly, the paper identifies the key implications of the research and the main findings with suggestions for future research.

Literature Review

There are three particular schools of thought that dominate the existing literature: political opportunity structure, resource mobilization theory, and framing theory. The interdependence of these three perspectives reflects the many components that guide social movements; however, the evolving literature of political opportunity structure and framing in a modern historical context better pertains to this research. These schools of thought will help unveil what techniques appear to have broader implications, while keeping in mind that movements differ based on context.

Political Opportunity Structure

Political opportunity structure promises a means to "predict variance in the periodicity, style, and content of activist claims over time and variance across institutional contexts" (Meyer 2004, 1458). The framework that this structure provides is focused on the principle that context influences the choice of protest strategies and the effect of social movements on their environment (Kitschelt 1986, 58). There arethree foundational pillars that ground this concept. First is "the degree of openness or closure of formal political access," which addresses the political climate in which the social movement is occurring (Eisinger 1973, 27). Second is "the degree of stability or instability of political alignments," which refers to the societal institutions in place (Fox Pivenand Cloward 1979, 28). Lastly is the "availability and strategic posture of potential alliance partners," that is in regards to the collective action component of the social movement taking form (Tarrow 1988, 429). It is observed in all three of these structures that context is at the forefront of activists' efforts. The political opportunity structure has been shown to resonate in women's movements. In addition to aiding in the creation of different movements within a political structure, the discourse has been used to illustrate social movement theory throughout different cultures (Katzenstein 1987, 3-17).

There is a direct relationship between political grievances and protest (Wolfsfeld, Segev, and Sheafer 2013). This sheds light on what inspired Arab women to "create online spaces for political engagement and agency" (Newsom and Lengel). Arab activists and organizers found in the Middle East engage in social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter, as well as other discussion forums (Ibid). Bayat examines "concepts of solidarity-building in such closed political settings as the contemporary Muslim Middle East" (Bayat 2005). Discourses in the context of Bayat's research focus on the unity found within Islamic ideologies understood as the construction of political and social movements through a solidarity collective action frame (Ibid). In my own research, I analyze how the Arab Spring solidarity discourses served as a manifestation of Arab feminism and how Arab feminists practiced solidarity during the Arab Spring in protest spaces.

With the rise of other schools of thought, there is a "shift in the research focus from why movements emerge, to how" (Meyer 2004, 127). Political opportunity structure establishes that political opportunities heavily influence the success or failure of a social movement. Scholars explain how the political opportunities of the Arab Spring ignited a series of women's social movements. The research presented here furthers the examination of the political opportunities that Arab feminist created for themselves during the Arab Spring, as a result of the political turmoil taking place in places like Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen. Such a discussion helps to better explain some of the many collective action frames that were used to shape Arab feminism, like the discourse of solidarity that is focused on advocating for equality.

Resource Mobilization Theory

The resource mobilization theory has led scholars to focus their attention on how collective actors function and how they obtain resources and mobilize support, while keeping in mind those within and outside of their supporters' group (Della Porta and Diani 2006, 15). The resource mobilization theory is based on three premises. First, there are a wide array of resources that need to be mobilized; second, the social movement must have links to other groups; and third, the social movement's success will depend on external support (McCarthy and Zald 1977, 1213). Moreover, the infrastructure that social movements rely on is similar to the infrastructure utilized by industries in a particular society (Ibid, 1217). These aspects include but are not limited to, "communication media and expense, levels of affluence, degree of access to institutional centers, pre-existing networks, and occupational structure and growth" (Ibid). The emphasis placed on agency and collective action is best explained by the use of multi-faceted resources, put in motion by activists. This paper looks at two different modern resources that women's social movements employ: cultural and technological.

Cultural resources are distinctive; they are perceived as "artifacts" and "conceptual tools of specialized knowledge" (Edwards and McCarthy 2004, 126). Depending on the society in which a social movement is rising, cultural resources will be relative and not typically universalized (Ibid). Concrete resources ranging from magazines and newspapers, to films and videos, to music and literature are referred to as forms of cultural resources, also known as "tactical repertoire" which in many ways "facilitate recruitment and socialization of new adherents" (Ibid). The ability of activists to reach and mobilize groups through cultural resources highlights the importance of the social movements' targeted audience being pinpointed. Activists must define in a cultural context what the best way to approach a group is in order to be remembered and inspire further forms of support.

Technological resources are the second area of focus in this analysis of the resource mobilization theory. This category of resources depicts the social-organizational aspect of mobility. Different from cultural resources, technological resources are a contemporary form of organization (Eltantawy and Wiest 2011, 1207). Social movements have made tremendous strides through social media in recent years. In the many forms of its existence, social media provides opportunities for "political expression, symbolic identification for collective actors, and information exchange" (Ibid, 1208). For example, social network outlets and Arab satellite channels greatly influenced the political revolutions of countries like Tunisia and Egypt (Harb 2011). Thus, while cultural resources enable the social movement to grasp the attention of adherents, technological resources put adherents into conversation with one another.

The facilitation of these mobility conversations can be observed. Research done about feminist networks of collective action explains The Action Committee of Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), established as a response to the many laws put in place in the Middle East that violated women's human rights. WLUML has led to an "international network of information, solidarity, and support" (Moghadam 2000, 72). WLUML was found to be a catalyst in the initiation of the mobilization of women's movements throughout the Middle East for getting into contact, adopting principles of defense and protest, and fighting for their human rights. Access to this knowledge reflects how people can be inspired through cultural resources and engage in dialogue through technological resources. The following research draws on the sociocultural revolution discourse that was employed by Arab feminists through cultural resources that empowered women to unite and challenge traditions of Islam. I examine the socio-cultural revolution discourses of Arab feminists found in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen in order to understand how Arab women came together to challenge the role of a woman, as seen by traditional Islam. Furthermore, through the distinct mobilization techniques employed during the Arab Spring by Arab feminists, I study the manifestations of the social mobility discourse founded in the theory of resource mobilization.

Framing Theory

Framing theory brings together agency and context. Collective action frames are action-oriented sets of beliefs and meanings which are intended to inspire and legitimate the activities and campaigns of social movements (Benford and Snow 2000, 611-639). Equally, it is important to understand that frames are not simply the result of individual opinions; rather they are more so the outcome of "negotiating shared meaning" (Ibid). The discursive processes, resulting from a degree of dissatisfaction with the political opportunity structure, are actionoriented and interactive. Framing as a theoretical framework supports the third collective action frame I analyze later in this paper, political revolution.

The framing theory outlines three types of frames – diagnostic, prognostic, and motivational. Diagnostic frames refer to those that focus on the sources of blame and responsibility (Ibid). Diagnostic frames are constructed around the causes of whatever social issue a movement is addressing. An example of a diagnostic frame is a women's social movement fighting against the gender equality laws of a patriarchal structure of society which defines a woman's role as inferior to that of a man. Prognostic frames refer to the expression of potential solutions to the problem that a social movement is advocating for (Ibid). Prognostic frames are best illustrated by the women's social movements that oppose similar public policy issues, but confront the fight from opposing perspectives. Finally, motivational frames are a "call to arms." Motivational frames provide rationale to current and potential social movement adherents for engaging in collective action. Through the construction of vocabularies that are advocacy oriented, motivational frames are what sustain participation in social movements.

But it is not the type of frame alone that shapes a social movement; the degree of resonance that the frame provides is a critical feature. A collective action frame is referred to by scholars as a "protest paradigm" (Harlow and Johnson 2011). A protest paradigm serves as a means of categorization and concept formation. The framing process allows a group of people to develop a certain conceptualization of an issue that then enables them to "reorient their thinking" about said issue (Ibid).

The resonance of frames is explained by two factors: empirics and commensurability (Ibid). More relevant to the discussion is that of experiential commensurability. Commensurability draws attention to the everyday experiences and lives of the targets of mobilization. Frames cannot be abstract and distant; there must be a clear fit between the framings and current events shaping the world. Scholars explain that narrative fidelity translates into cultural resonance (Ibid). Salient frames imply greater prospects of mobilization. The political revolution discourse is the frame within which Arab feminists strive to obtain greater representation in politics by challenging the status quo in their surrounding environments. The following research examines women's social movements in the Arab Spring where women sought to gain access to the decision-making process and power in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen.

The nature of social institutions and gendered politics creates a status quo that is exclusionary and unequal for Arab women. These struggles have led Arab feminist to act out in revolutionary ways that were unheard of prior to the Arab Spring. The mobilization and collective action came in the form of protest, confrontation, and speaking out against injustices. Understanding the political opportunities that gave rise to the Arab Spring and the mobilization techniques employed by Arab feminists through the framing theory informs my research question by allowing me to reflect on how Arab feminists portrayed themselves and how the Arab Spring changed the manifestation of Arab feminism.

My research looks at the solidarity, the socio-cultural revolution, and the political revolution collective action frames employed by women's social movements as a means of advocacy. These frames help us to understand how Arab women utilized the discourses of the Arab Spring to further the platform of Arab feminism, beginning in late 2010 continuing through the end of 2013. The goal of this research is to have a better grasp of the ability of a women's social movement to resonate, both locally and globally. The following methods and analysis build upon the existing literature. Each discourse, also understood as a collective action frame, has an implication that further explains how Arab women influence the existing literature that explains social movements.

Methodological Considerations and Historical Context

I rely on the arguments put forth by the theoretical frameworks discussed above to shape my analysis of Arab feminism in the Arab Spring. My analysis breaks down into three different discourses: solidarity, the sociocultural revolution, and the political revolution. These schools of thought uniquely feed into my methodology by providing the contextual foundation for what drives the revolution, referred to as the Arab Spring. By analyzing the articulation of my derived meanings, the discourses, the manifestations of the movements vision, the advocacy, and the practices that defined Arab feminists' participation in the Arab Spring, I am able to better understand my research question: How did collective action frames during the Arab Spring shape the discourses on Arab feminism?

I analyze the official government and media discourses from Arab feminists and United States Congressional members on the involvement and role of women in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen during the Arab Spring. Through primary source material found in international news sources, I have identified prominent Arab feminists in the countries I analyze (Marquand 2011; Gregory 2011; The Economist 2011). I selected the women based on the media coverage that they received throughout the Arab Spring and shortly thereafter. Understanding how these women represent a broader constituency within their respective country will aid in my analysis of the themes manifested in the discourses of the Arab Spring activists' and their influences on Arab feminism. Analyzing themes of inclusivity, mobilization, equality, symbolism and transformation will reveal power relationships among actors and ideas in the Arab Spring context.

This research focuses on the modern historical context of Arab feminism during the Arab Spring. I have applied the key concept of contextuality by homing in on the specific research context in which I study (Schwartz-Shea and Yanow 2012, 45). I examine the discourses of Arab feminists in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen throughout the Arab Spring, from December 2010 through December 2013. The selection of the time period is significant because when a man in Tunisia burned himself alive in response to his mistreatment by the police in December 2010, the world saw a series of uprisings breakout throughout the region (Blight, Pulham, and Torpey 2012). I chose to only analyze discourses through December 2013 because by that moment in the Arab Spring there was substantial documentation of the events transpiring; I fully recognize that December 2013 does not mark the end of the Arab Spring. For the purposes of my research, 2013 was the peak of the movement and a useful stopping point for documentation purposes.

The selection of the three countries was guided by my conceptualization of the history of Arab feminism rooted in the politics of these states. Egypt is the Arab world's most populous country and during the revolution women took to the streets in protest of political change (Bagnall 2011). In Tunisia, women's rights were at the forefront of the founding father's agenda, Habib Bourguiba, and continue to be a top priority (The Economist 2011). In Yemen, the situation is unique given that the Arab women have had to "confront directly the discourse of patriarchy" (FieldingSmith 2011). The role that prominent Yemini Arab activist, Tawakul Karman, played in inspiring the youth wing of the powerful Islamist opposition party Islah "echoed bravery across the Middle East" (Ibid). The context selected informs my research in two unique ways.

First, in order to understand how Arab women portrayed themselves during the Arab Spring, I found international news sources that quote women both in private and public spaces expressing their positions on the social and political events in their respective homeland (The Economist 2011; Bagnall 2011; Fielding-Smith 2011; Gregory 2011; Marquand 2011). Second, with regard to how the Arab Spring changed the manifestation of Arab feminism, I study the Joint Hearing record of Women and the Arab Spring as well as a documentary of interviews regarding the history of Arab feminism (Women and the Arab Spring 2011; Mahmoud 2014). A note should be made about the interviews extracted from the documentary; these interviews cannot be treated as unbiased documents of discourse, but rather as snippets of what a director felt was strategic to include. Of the international news sources that I found, there are a myriad of articles that reference the women and discourses I study. In order to gain exposure, I work through international news sources, which gather data straight from the Middle East, in order to help me understand overlapping contexts, both in the realm of the socio-cultural and political revolutions, as well as the solidarity of Arab feminists within the protest spaces (Schwartz-Shea and Yanow 2012, 85). My data selection analyzes for intertextuality among the collective action frames employed by Arab feminists across the region given the recurring themes and contexts that appear in the primary and secondary sources – culture, politics, equality (Ibid, 86). In selecting sources with overlapping contexts, I focused on the key terms used to search for the newspaper articles and grouped my research by the category each discourse fell into. I pinpointed data sources that fit into the frames I was interested in analyzing to ensure that the discourses mapped my identified representations appropriately.

Perhaps most importantly, I consider my role in the research process. As a Western-educated woman with no experience living in an Arab country or an understanding of the Arabic language, I acknowledge the cultural competence which leaves some distance between myself and the actors associated with my research. I am biased by my knowledge about the Arab Spring going into the research process. Nonetheless, knowing this, my methodological basis for reflexivity and passions for understanding the experiences that women underwent has provided me with many opportunities to take risks and work tirelessly to understand something quite foreign (Ibid, 101). My newly constructed knowledge about this subject allows me to evaluate the trustworthiness of my work. The concrete steps I took in order to ensure trustworthiness are three-fold. I ensured that I sufficiently mapped for exposure and intertextuality, that I had a continual development of thinking when generating new understandings, and that there were revisions throughout the entire research process (Ibid). This grounded my research and allowed me to carry out a thorough analysis on three discourses of Arab feminism in the Arab Spring.

Arab Feminism Discourses in the Arab Spring

My analysis section is organized by theme: solidarity, socio-cultural revolution, and political opportunity. By unpacking three discourses of Arab feminism during the Arab Spring, I discuss how each collective action frame shaped the self-portrayal of Arab women. I chose to organize my analysis in this fashion given that the key actors in each of my areas of analysis are women. The variations in self-portrayal and manifestation explains the three discourses I will examine: solidarity, the socio-cultural revolution and the political revolution. The solidarity discourse focuses on the significance of protest spaces and women speaking out individually as part of a larger movement advocating for equality (Bagnall 2011). The socio-cultural revolution discourse focuses on the traditional Islamic customs and roles of women prior to the Arab Spring versus those observed as more modern throughout the Arab Spring (Fielding-Smith 2011). The political revolution discourse focuses on the demands made by women for greater representation in politics and a reformation of the electoral process (Rice 2011). In this discourse analysis, I aim to better understand my research question: How did collective action frames during the Arab Spring shape the discourses on Arab feminism?

Figure 1: Adapted from (Aradau 2004).

Figure 1: Adapted from (Aradau 2004).


I claim that the solidarity collective action frame became dominant because of the Arab feminist push for equality among all women involved in the fight for freedom during the Arab Spring. Founded on the theoretical premise of the political opportunity structure and the framing theory, the solidarity frame inspires and legitimizes the activities and campaigns of Arab women. The agency that sustained participation throughout the Arab Spring is based on solidarity. Encompassing "the youth of the Arab Spring, women and the Arab Spring, and the women of the Arab revolutions," a prominent Yemeni feminist, Tawakul Karman, describes the solidarity among the women of the Arab Spring as a means of "staking their claim to the public sphere in societies which have often sought to keep them out of it" (Fielding-Smith 2011). This led many Arab feminists to build inclusive alliances with one another because of their collective desire for equality. Despite the challenges that faced Arab women, "when the revolution came, no one asked about anyone's background, religious affiliation, political affiliation, regional affiliation, and ethnicity" (Ibid). During this time, it is most interesting to observe how women describe the transitions that took place regarding the solidarity that bonded the women because it did not always look as promising as it did well into the movement. What started as an "age of innocence" for Arab feminists in the Arab Spring, later shifted to an "age of wisdom" as women gained more and more momentum in the public sphere (Bagnall 2011).

As these transitions happened, equal rights, for both men and women, was center stage. Arab activists and organizers no longer accepted having their rights violated by the regimes in power in their respective countries. Slowly as Arab feminist stopped fearing their governments, they more confidently took to the streets as a means of achieving their dream – freedom (Bagnall 2011). On International Women's Day in 2011 women took to the streets in Tahrir Square, Egypt "calling for democratic reforms and making sure that equality is part of the new Egypt" (Ibid). Across the region whether it be Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen or any other Arab state, one thing was fundamentally clear: women do not want to be like men, instead women want "choice and equal protection under the law" (Rice 2011). The solidarity discourse's manifestation of Arab feminism in the form of equality allows me to understand that women are calling for the rights of everyone because their demands are similar to those of men (Ibid). This is based on principles of basic human rights: freedom, equal citizenship, and a greater role in society (Ibid). Even the men involved in the revolution of the Arab Spring allowed "women [to] be what they want" and participate in the practices of the Arab Spring because they too believe in the plight of the Arab feminists (Ibid). Hand in hand these women proved to be unstoppable, transcending borders, inspiring women to engage in movements of solidarity across the Middle East.

Socio-Cultural Revolution

I claim that the socio-cultural revolution collective action frame became dominant because of the shift in the role of traditional Islamic values in Arab society. Arab feminism, during the Arab Spring, challenged socio-cultural norms rooted in Islamic foundations. Founded in the theoretical premise of the resource mobilization theory, this claim is based on the strategies employed by Arab women throughout the Arab Spring – from marching beside men, something known to be "un-Islamic," to staging sit-ins, hunger strikes and even dying (Rice et al. 2011). The problems that face Arab feminist are not with their religion, but rather with the "undemocratic and patriarchal culture" (Ghafour 2012). Arab feminism for many Arab women is a "quest for justice" (Ibid). Islam, the faith practiced by many Arab feminists, is also about justice (Ibid). Thus, the Arab Spring was a symbolic time for women to push their feminist agenda forward and challenge historically engrained socio-cultural norms within their Islamic societies.

Arab feminists redefined the role of women during the Arab Spring because they were more than just women with a lower status than their male counterparts. This is based on a newspaper headline published during the Arab Spring that reads, "She is the Muslim, the mother, the soldier, the protester, the journalist, the volunteer, the citizen" (Rice 2011). For example, in Yemen, when women were told by their President that it was "un-Islamic for male and female protesters to march side by side," women took to the streets just to prove him wrong and challenge cultural traditional Islamic norms (Ibid). This had an impact on the women of Libya, who gathered late at night beside the men to "act as human shields, many beautifully made up beneath their headscarves as if out for a night on the town" (Ibid). The tension between traditional and modern practices of Islam became apparent in socio-cultural norms of marriage because "while Sharia law does not explicitly state the minimum age of marriage, attitudes vary greatly" (Ghafour 2012) Marriage at a young age has become common in Arab society so much so that young girls are being referred to as "brides of death" (Ibid). Arab feminists, such as Tawakul Karman, challenged this by campaigning to raise the minimum age of marriage (Ibid). Despite being defeated by ultraconservatives in Parliament, her spirit among the other Arab feminists of the Arab uprisings influenced the socio-cultural revolution taking place.

The socio-cultural revolution discourse does two things. First, the confrontational aspect of Arab feminists' challenging of Islamic traditions "shakes the foundations of fundamentalism" in political Islamist parties (Fielding-Smith 2011). Second, the Arab feminist battle in the Middle East is symbolic because it allows the reformation movement in Islam to take rise "after a thousand years of suppression of innovation and persecution of whoever dares to think outside ancient and rigid religious constructions and dogma" (Weekly Blitz 2011). The progress made by Arab feminists is ongoing as each woman seeks to overcome the socio-cultural norms of her community. The conflict leading up to the Arab Spring was one of culture and tradition; some argued that "tradition will win out over the law," but Arab feminists proved differently by working hard to be active and contributing members of society (Bagnall 2011).

Political Revolution

I claim that the political revolution collective action frame became dominant because of the Arab feminists' desire for greater representation in politics. Founded in the theoretical premise of the political opportunity structure and the framing theory, this claim is based on the documented representations of women standing in solidarity and fighting for democracy and equal representation throughout state elections in Tunisia, at protests at Tahrir Square in Egypt and Change Square in Yemen (Ibid; Fielding-Smith 2011). The possibility of these elections became a reality following the Arab Spring because it allowed feminists to view the significance and meaning of elections in a certain way. The change in mindset was shaped by the grievances the women faced that led them to challenge the status quo, authority, and laws and policies. Going into the political revolution Arab feminists understood that getting women into politics was the first battle. Different states approached their transitions to democracy differently. The goal, however, was the same – to ignite a political revolution that would resonate locally and globally.

The political revolution discourse is about the Arab feminist portrayal of politics, as a solution to discrimination, in an election cycle about freedom of religious expression. The role of women in the revolution was immense, so now women wanted that to be translated into political representation. In Tunisia, The Personal Status Code of 1956 is sacred for many women (Bagnall 2011). The Personal Status Code outlawed polygamy in Tunisia, the first country in the Arab world to set such a precedent. It made divorce legal, and included that a marriage agreement required the consent of both parties, and had an amendment regarding the prosecution of domestic violence (Women and the Arab Spring 2011). Arab women in Tunisia, at the time of the Arab Spring, questioned the commitment of their government to their rights. The women did this by presenting a more "accessible model of ‘Islamist feminism'" to many rural and socially conservative Tunisian women, through the socio-cultural revolution (Marks 2011). In Egypt, personal laws were introduced, but during the Arab Spring and even before were referred to as "Suzanne's laws," a derogatory reference to the first lady of Egypt, Suzanne Mubarak (Fielding-Smith 2011). Arab women in Egypt engaged in protests in Tahrir Square to fight for their status as women despite being fought and cleared out by army officers (Ibid). In Yemen, women attended demonstrations at Change Square "chanting that their honor was not cheap" (Ibid). These protest spaces proved to be revolutionary because Arab women acted out in unexpected ways. This is based on Yemeni women who "took to the streets to burn their veils in a sign of defiance" (Women and the Arab Spring 2011). United through collective action, Arab feminists revolutionized the political structures in their states.

In summary, the Arab feminist discourses of the Arab Spring –the solidarity, the socio-cultural revolution, and the political revolution – reflect two things. First is the portrayal of Arab feminist during the Arab Spring. Second is the influence of the Arab Spring on the manifestation of Arab feminism. The solidarity discourse aids in understanding the unity that women's social movements of the Arab Spring had given their vision of equality. The socio-cultural revolution discourse represents the challenges that Arab women made to the ways in which they were being socially and culturally portrayed. Lastly, the political revolution discourse is a means by which the women questioned the political structures in place to further advocate for their agenda of equal social status and political representation. Together these three discourses led me to understand the key implications of my research: How did collective action frames during the Arab Spring shape the discourses on Arab Feminism?

Table 1: Empty Signifiers, Nodes, and Key Quotes

Table 1: Empty Signifiers, Nodes, and Key Quotes


Stephanie Maravankin is a student of International Relations. She graduates in December of 2017. School of International Service (SIS), American University. Email:


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Rice, Xan, Katherine Marsh, Tom Finn, Harriet Sherwood, Angelique Chrisafis, and Robert Booth. 2011. "Women Have Emerged as Key Players in the Arab Spring." The Gaurdian.

Saliba, Therese. 2000. "Arab Feminism at the Millennium." Signs 25 (4): 1087-1092.

Tarrow, Sidney. 1988. "National Politics and Collective Action: Recent Theory and Research in Western Europe and the United States." Annual Review of Sociology 14 (1): 421-440.

Wolfsfeld, Gadi, Elad Segev, and Tamir Sheafer. 2013. "Social Media and the Arab Spring: Politics Comes First." The International Journal of Press/Politics 18 (2): 115-137.

U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Women and the Arab Spring: Joint Hearings before the Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women's Issues and the Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs. 112th Cong., November 2, 2011.

Weekly Blitz. 2011. "Arab Spring's Silver Lining: A Search for the Soul of Arab Islam." Weekly Blitz.

The Economist. 2011. "The Women Behind the Arab Spring." The Economist.


Table 1A: Coding Key and News Sources

Can Islamism and Feminism Mix?

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