When Ordinary Citizens Become Activists: Feminist Responses to Gender Violence during the Egyptian Revolution

This event is part of the AHRC-funded project, Ordinary Citizenship.

On Thursday 13 June 2023, the University of Leeds will host Yasmin El-Rifae, the author of Radius: A Story of Feminist Revolution. In conversation with Sahla Aroussi and Maša Mrovlje, Yasmin will discuss her work on feminist activism during the Egyptian Revolution and reflect on the intersections of gender, violence and civic engagement more broadly. 

As one of the first waves of protest in what became known as the Arab Spring, the Egyptian Revolution in 2011 represented a crucial moment of political engagement from citizens who before then may never have participated in this kind of explicit activism. While representing a crucial moment of civilian resistance against the state and its allies, the realities of sexual violence directed against women during protests brought to the fore ongoing tensions between civilians and raised questions about the meaning of revolution for different social groups. As El-Rifae writes, the attacks were seen as attacks “not only on women as women” but on “women as citizens,” challenging women’s capacity for civic engagement and the potential fulfilment of their rights as claim-making citizens. However, in response to attacks, feminist activists organised ordinary citizens, both women and men, into intervention and support teams to protect women from violence. Thus, they forged a new repetoire of civic engagement oriented to defending women’s right to participate in the public sphere. 

To think about what citizenship means in everyday life requires close engagement with the experiences, perspectives and practices of diverse social groups. Ten years on, this discussion hopes to contribute to a broader conversation on how the social reality of violence against women conditions the modes and possibilities of citizenship as a practice, as well as what forms of civic engagement we may be able to appeal in response. 

Digital book cover for Radius: A Story of Feminist Revolution


Yasmin El-Rifae is a writer, editor and coproducer of the Palestine Festival of Literature. She is the Author of Radius: A Story of Feminist Revolution, published by Verso in 2022. The book follows the story of Opantish (Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment) during the Egyptian Revolution. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Lux Magazine, and other outlets.

Sahla Aroussi is an Associate Professor of Global Security Challenges at the University of Leeds. Her work explores questions related to Gender, violence and international security.

Maša Mrovlje is a Lecturer in Political Theory at the University of Leeds. Her work explores questions related to political resistance, with a focus on the dynamics of disappointment and betrayal in resistance movements.

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