Islamism, Secularism and the Woman Question in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring: Evidence from the Arab Barometer

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

Islamism, Secularism and the Woman Question in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring: Evidence from the Arab Barometer


  • Ashley M. Fox Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany, State University of New York, USA
  • Sana Abdelkarim Alzwawi Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany, State University of New York, USA
  • Dina Refki Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany, State University of New York, USA


Abstract  The uprisings that led to regime change during the early period of the Arab Spring were initially inclusive and pluralistic in nature, with men and women from every political and religious orientation engaging actively in political activities on the street and in virtual spaces. While there was an opening of political space for women and the inclusion of demands of marginalized groups in the activists’ agenda, the struggle to reimagine national identities that balance Islamic roots and secular yearnings is still ongoing in many countries in the region. This paper seeks to deepen understanding of the extent to which the pluralistic sentiments and openness to accepting the rights women have persisted following the uprising. We aim to examine changes in attitudes towards women’s equality in countries that underwent regime change through popular uprisings during revolutionary upheavals of the Arab Spring and in countries where regimes have remained unchanged. Using available data from consecutive rounds of the Arab Barometer survey, we examine changes in attitudes in nine countries with two rounds of Arab Barometer during and post Arab Spring (Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, Sudan, Jordan, Iraq, Palestine). We find that support for “Muslim feminism” (an interpretation of gender equality grounded in Islam) has increased over the period and particularly in Arab Spring countries, while support for “secular feminism” has declined. In most countries examined, relatively high degrees of support for gender equality co-exist with a preference for Islamic interpretations of personal status codes pertaining to women. We discuss the implications of these findings for academics and activists concerned with women’s rights in the Middle East North Africa (MENA).


Keywords  Arab democratic exceptionalism; Arab Spring; Islamism; woman question; secularism


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17645/pag.v4i4.767