SOAS University of London

Centre for Gender Studies

Valeria Dessi

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Valeria Dessi
Ms Valeria Dessi
Email address:
Thesis title:
Wiring presence: women's rights and digital narratives among young women activists in Egypt (2005-present)
Internal Supervisors

PhD Research

My research proposal stems from different, yet intersecting, paths - in gender, media, and political studies. It focuses on young women activists' engagement with digital narratives in two main Egyptian cities, Cairo and Alexandria. I aim to explore the ways social media can have affected, transformed and challenged young women's political expression and participation over the past 6 years. Since demonstrations in 2005 in fact, social media became decisively linked to political mobilization: the 2005 protests represented “[t]he catalyst that propelled the existing Egyptian blogosphere into an active realm of contention, making activists into bloggers and bloggers into activists” (Radsch 2008: 5). Furthermore, I intend to question how digital practices are worked through young women’s political involvement as "gendering" practices, in ways that interrogate a strict separation between "online" and "offline" women's activism.

By focusing on individual activist bloggers' experiences (such as those of Asmaa Mahfouz, Zeinobia, Dalia Ziada) as well as on more structured women's rights' groups (“We are Laila project”, “Nasra for Feminist studies”, “New Woman Foundation”), I intend to shed light on transformations in the tactics, claims, and affects among young women's activists in a critical moment for Egypt. This moment is characterized by shifts in the articulation of power relations. On the one hand, the popular uprising in January 2011 followed by the resignation of Mubarak, and the recent elections won by different Islamist currents, seem to signal (apparently) a change in the social and political scenario. On the other hand, the Internet in Egypt has known a dramatic expansion in the past 10 years: as in other countries of the Arab world it became "one of the most important avenues through which public opinion trends and public spheres are both shaped, as well as reflected" (Khamis and Vaughn 2011: 4).

Within this complex picture, I argue that young women's activism online asks for a specific and nuanced reading, particularly in such delicate historical moment for Egypt. Women's rights and a pluralist political inclusion are indeed at stake: in transitioning to the post-Mubarak government, women (thanks to the web too) gained an unprecedented visibility - which does not eliminate the risk of women's rights being marginalized or sacrificed in the name of future political compromises.

Overall, I will try to understand in which ways and through which narratives the affirmation of women's rights pass through digital media; how digital narratives are inherent to women's activism in Egypt, expanding the understanding of women's mobilization beyond an online/offline opposition; finally, how these moments are imbricated in the complex, specific context of the Egyptian post-colonial nation-state in a revolutionary and counter-revolutionary moment.