Yesterday, I, along with about 25% of the world’s population, watched the Opening Ceremony of the Bejing Olympics. There was nothing unusual during the ceremony except for the irony that the Chinese alphabet allowed the Syrian contingent be followed by the United States delegation. From the athletes’ perspective, George W. Bush seemed to be cheering the Syrian athletes which probably astonished and amused them.
The other unusual thing from my perspective was the number of women who were selected and honored to be their own countries’ flag bearers. An interesting thing, which led me to have pen and paper and re-watch the Parade of National Athletes till late in the morning, was the number of women who were given the honor to carry their countries’ flags. It was 29% which is not bad at all. Well how did the Arab countries fare?!? We had 4 female flag-bearers (3 of them were veiled) and two of those were from the conservative Gulf Cooperation Council.
That is correct! Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and the Comoros Islands had a woman representative honored by her carrying her country’s flag. As the Arab countries number 22, that is 18% of Arab countries. Although this is symbolic, I cannot but help wonder whether why this story is not being told. Most of the European countries had male flag carriers (their female participation was exactly 20%). The best continent according to me was Africa which had 22 female flag bearers to 29 male bearers. The only thing I have heard about the Olympics by the Western press is the criticism that Saudi Arabia refuses to have any female athlete in its Olympic delegation. That is fair, but it also fair to point out the positives from the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Isn’t it ironic that ultra-conservative Iran also had a woman carry their ISLAMIC flag? Add to that list, the Muslim nation of Eriteria and we have an “Islamic Jihad” at the Olympics led by women. How will the Western mainstream media and liberal feminists handle it!
It has gotten me thinking about the Arab Olympic movement and the positive effect women have had upon it. I still remember Nawal Al Mutawkel’s (from Morocco) gold medal in Los Angeles ’84 Olympics in addition to Ghada Shuaa’s giving Syria its first ever Olympic medal. In fact, I was heartened to learn that the former has been recently elected to the International Olympic Committee’s Board recently. In fact (and I will have to check on that) but I would be willing to wager that the number of Arab medals between females and males is 40-60 and not something skewed like 10-90. Can the Western countries boast of a similarly based proportion within their Olympic records?
So, why do is this not a story to tell? We, Arabs and Muslims, have provided women with opportunities to shine and these women have done us proud. However, we have not utilized this information to counter other’s whose motives are more sinister and aim to paint us out as “woman-haters.” Please note that I am not stating that all of woman issues have been handled correctly in the Arab world. That is still an ideal and we need to improve our record on other woman’s issues, but we need to have an acknowledgment of our Olympic efforts in promoting Arab women first.
I wish all the Arab countries great success in the Olympics and may we get more medals than in previous Olympics. These wishes are specially placed to our female athletes. Make us proud and let the world take notice of your ethnicity and gender.