Sep. 28th, 2011

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Libya’s Girl Executioners and Gun-Brandishing Newscasters

Gender roles are nowhere more prominent than in war, as we see male political and military leaders taking the most visible roles in armed conflicts, promoting the tendency to see the capacity to inflict violence as inherently male. During the six months of Libya’s revolt, amid stories of women working in hospitalsand sending food to the fighters, the stories of women who have ventured into the frontlines, likeFawzia Al Ferjani, have been few and far between. Tellingly, the fact that women were again out on the streets in Tripoli, including coming out in force for a celebration in the renamed Martyrs Square, were reported as signs of normality.

Since the opposition entered Tripoli, however, there have been a number of interviews with women formerly employed as guards and fighters by the Gaddafi regime, reports previously limited to the evidence of women’s IDs at the frontlines and rumours of female snipers and mercenaries.

A few days ago Al Arabiya interviewed Amira, a young woman who studied at the police officers academy before joining Gaddafi’s Revolutionary Guards, and her sister Inaas, who studied at the same academy and appeared wearing niqab. Amira, who resigned from her post before the uprising began, said that the job attracted poorer women who wanted a policewoman’s salary, and said she had decided to join the Guards because: “I wanted to work and do something, so I had to join the Revolutionary Guards after I could no longer get into the police academy.” In a longer version of this interview, Amira pointed out the irony of promoting equality through military training, given Gaddafi’s obsession with classifying people by tribe, race and region, and gave an account of being one of only 4 women among 600 men at the academy which comments on the failures of the strange form of feminism Gaddafi espoused.

The prosaic Amira is a contrast to the seeming ideological fervor of one of the most visible faces of Gaddafi’s regime, Hala Misrati, a newscaster on state TV. In an Asharq Al-Awsat article on “The rise and fall of Gaddafi’s mouthpiece,” Khaled Mahmoud noted that Misrati was not

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