By Alex Taylor
BEIRUT: Prominent women from across the region will come to Beirut next month to take part in a forum on the pivotal role that females have played in the Arab Spring protests that are reshaping the geopolitical map of the Middle East.
The New Arab Woman Forum, the fifth edition of which will take place at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beirut Feb. 1-2 under the theme of “Women and the Arab Spring,” will also seek to identify ways to ensure that women reap the benefits of changes sweeping the region. “We saw that Arab women have played a major role during these revolutions and this is not something we can deny,” NAWF founder and executive chair Nadine Abu Zaki told The Daily Star following a news conference Tuesday at the Bristol Hotel. “The most important thing is ... how to make this Arab Spring an Arab Spring for women.”
The announcement of this year’s theme was welcomed by a panel including Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, NAWF honorary president MP Bahia Hariri, MBC Group spokesperson Mazen Hayek and the Director of the French Institute, Aurélien Lechevallier.
Abu Faour highlighted the role women played in Arab Spring, saying that females, as partners in the protests, should also be partners in the gains of the revolutions.
“The Arab Spring should not be an autumn for the Arab woman. The slogans of the revolutions were to remove oppression and achieve democracy. Arab rulers have fallen into the trap of claiming they are gods that do not fall and are not replaced, thus the Arab man should not fall into the trap of tyranny and domination.”
Organized by Al-Iktissad Wal-Aamal Group and Al-Hasnaa Magazine, the forum will bring together speakers, both male and female, for two days of discussions. Panels will address themes such as the role of social media in asserting individual and women’s rights, East-West relations and the West’s perception of the Arab woman, artistic and literary expression in the Arab Spring, women in business and the future of reforms guaranteeing the political and social rights of women.
Sponsored by the Social Affairs Ministry and satellite TV station MBC, the event will also involve the French Institute for the first time.
Another new aspect of this year’s forum is a special prize for NAWF’s Woman of the Week.
The NAWF website has been featuring profiles of distinguished Arab women weekly since September. Online voters and forum participants will select the winner from among these candidates, who include Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakel Karmen from Yemen, Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki, Egyptian journalist and human rights activist Bothaina Kamel and blogger Lina Ben Mhenni of Tunisia.
Al-Hasnaa Magazine is also organizing a march at the close of the conference from the Four Seasons Hotel to Downtown Beirut under the slogan “sawa sawa” (“together together”).
“This march is a message from Arab women to Arab society to tell them that there is no Arab Spring without women,” said Abu Zaki, adding that around 500 people are expected to attend the forum from 25 countries.