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Comparative Feminist Activism in the Middle East

Funding agency: SRA-MECW. Duration: 2021-ongoing

A common critique against feminist activists in the Middle East is that they are westernized. This project challenges this narrative by tracing the development of feminist movements in the contemporary Middle East, with a particular emphasis on Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia. As such, this study takes a comparative and historical approach, looking at important moments in the history of feminism, beyond the ubiquitous canon of Euro-American feminism.

Combining insights from performance studies, social movement theory, and feminist political theory, puts the history of feminist activism in the Middle East in new light, and open up new, exciting avenues of research on the development of civil and political rights and the efficacy of a particular kind of protest to fight political inequality. Focusing on the history of performative action as a feminist tool may provide valuable insight, both on the function of rights claiming in political struggle as well as how certain rights, such as the right to vote, become not only thinkable but practicable, which in turn helps in making the resulting subject, such as the female voter, intelligible in the specific context. Furthermore, centering such a study in the Middle Eastern context challenges the preconception of Arab feminists as “westernized,” by showing a genealogy of feminist activism, in which contemporary activists draw inspiration from earlier generations of Arab feminists rather than from “the West.”


This project aims to answer the following questions:

  • What strategies have been employed by feminist activists and civil rights advocates in Egypt, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia?
  • To what extent have contemporary feminist activists drawn inspiration from regional, historical figures and events, and to what extent have they drawn inspiration from non- Arab counterparts?
  • How are strategies and methods for feminist activism and change-making in the Middle East passed on, between generations and between countries?

Research Team

Joel Abdelmoez, Doctoral Student at CMES and the Department of Political Science (Lund University)

joel [dot] abdelmoez [at] cme [dot] lu [dot] se