Letter from President
Greetings from the new Egypt, a land of promise, young energy and hope for better futures. I wish to thank you all for your confidence and I look forward to serving as President of AMEWS. I will take this opportunity to share with you some of the ideas that I would like to pursue over the next two years, with the help of the board and all the members, and bearing in mind that they are a continuation of work that has already been started and championed by AMEWS boards and Presidents.
But first, I would like to thank the outgoing President, Nadje Al-Ali for her great work, her dedication to AMEWS, and also for her support and friendship. I am aware that I am following on a long tradition of strong women scholars who are committed to AMEWS and whose devotion and commitment has made a mark in the field of women’s studies. Special thanks also go to Azza Basarudin for her dedication to AMEWS and her invaluable help and support.
I am writing this letter on the 14th of January 2012, one year after the ousting of Ben Ali from Tunisia, and ten days away from the first anniversary of the 25th of January 2011 revolution in Egypt. What can I say to express how it felt like to live this moment, to participate be it in a very small way to the activation of dreams of freedom, dignity and social justice! I will quote Charles Dickens’ memorable lines describing the atmosphere of the French Revolution in A Tale of Two Cities:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
2011 was certainly all of the above and more. As scholars of the Middle East, we probably need time to reflect, to allow things to sink in and the dust to settle before we can analyse and interpret. But, for the time being, we can observe, attempt to identify indications, but more importantly spend time rethinking some of the paradigms that are entrenched in our disciplines about Middle Eastern cultures and societies.
My first priority for the next two years will be to expand the membership of AMEWS, with a focus on scholars and researchers located in the Middle East. Most AMEWS members have good contacts with scholars in the region and I would like to encourage all of you to directly contact them and encourage them to join. I also call upon all my friends and colleagues in the Middle East to take the initiative and become active members of AMEWS. This is a first step, but we cannot stop there. We will need to think of ways for forging structural links with academic institutions as well as research organizations. AMEWS needs to establish a strong presence in the region by organizing, participating and sponsoring/co-sponsoring academic and activist programs. To give a concrete example, AMEWS is sponsoring a panel organized by Nadje al-Ali in the conference “Narrating the Arab Spring” in Cairo (18-20 February 2012) entitled: “Gender and Citizenship in the aftermath of Revolutions.”
In addition, I would like us to think of creative ideas for furthering cooperation with colleagues in the Middle East, colleagues who are located in universities or in non-governmental research organizations. Much of the research on women and gender studies in the Arab world is carried out by researchers in NGOs and not universities. Most of this research has limited circulation outside the country where it is produced, hence limiting access and the exchange of knowledge globally. AMEWS can play a role in facilitating the circulation of knowledge produced on women and gender beyond the region, by finding ways for supporting the participation of colleagues from the region in international research projects as well as forums.
I would also like to build on and strengthen the efforts of AMEWS members in energizing the activist character of our association. Last month, our celebration of the achievement and distinguished career of Sondra Hale as an academic and activist was a wonderful reminder that AMEWS is much more than a professional association of academics working behind university walls. I would like to emphasize the important role that the Human Rights Committee can potentially play, especially during these turbulent times. At this historical moment, the Human Rights Committee cannot afford to be activated when crises arises. The Committee needs to be proactive in furthering the aims of AMEWS. For, as we rejoice at the return of the Arab spirit, we are all aware that we have a long and difficult road ahead of us, a road fraught with pain and sacrifices, especially for women.
In our last meeting, we discussed the importance of reviving the website and making it more interactive and up to date. We also agreed to make our mailing list more inclusive by inviting colleagues and students who are not necessarily subscribed to the journal. I will take this opportunity to ask for volunteers who are willing to give time immediately to developing our website and social networking media. Azza Basarudin has done a wonderful job in keeping track of events and in updating the website, but we need more people to be involved. At the same time, I welcome ideas and suggestions on how to ensure its sustainability.
My last point is about the e-bulletin. I am aware of the time constraints and difficulties that have persistently hampered its taking off in a satisfactory manner. I would like however to give it another try and launch an e-bulletin in the form of a joint project between AMEWS and one or more women’s organizations in the region. The aim is to strengthen the exchange and sharing of information on activities, publications and research projects. The bulletin will also enhance the visibility of AMEWS in the region and encourage the participation of scholars.
Last but not least, we need volunteers to assume the responsibilities in the AMEWS committees: the program committee, the Human Rights and Academic Freedom committee, and the nominations committee. Thanks to all the members who served on these committees in past years. Please contact me or Azza to express your interest.
AMEWS has already made its mark in the field of women and gender studies with its flagship periodical JMEWS. Thanks are due to current and previous editors: Marcia Inhorn, Nancy Gallagher and Sondra Hale. AMEWS also has the potential to be at the forefront of the battle for freedom of expression and human rights in the world.
I wish you all happiness, good health, and a touch of revolutionary fever.
Professor of English and Comparative Literature
Faculty of Arts
University of Cairo
January 14th 2012