I'd like to know if my impression is correct: that women in the Middle East enjoyed substantially better rights and respect around the 50s-70s than they did before and after, owing largely to the power of secular dictators supported by the USSR, and thus influenced by their seemingly egalitarian ideology? I recall seeing documentaries where Egyptian women in the 60s were wearing pretty much western clothing, down to the swimwear, which is unthinkable in today's Egypt.

The main counter point I can think of is that women in Iran also seemed to have it better before the Islamic revolution, and the Shah's anti-communist regime was backed by the USA. So perhaps it was something in the zeitgeist of the time which was a mix of various liberal and socialist influences?

This article gives a taste of the contrast:

Why is it that men did not harass Egyptian women when they wore short skirts but that sexual harassment has increased against women in head scarves? When ultraconservative doctrine dehumanizes women, reducing them to objects, it legitimizes acts of sexual aggression against them.

I would like someone who is familiar with the subject matter to explain what the reality was, preferably citing something to justify their analysis.

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    Depends on what you mean. You can count the shah as anti soviet.
    – D J Sims
    Sep 21, 2016 at 23:09
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    I think the interesting point would be if someone explained to which point the secularist movement was a native antitraditionalist movement (with the intent of modernization of countries that had been proven uncapable of defend themselves against foreign intervention), which would make it similar to Ataturk or Meiji reforms, and to which point it was influenced by the relationships with the SU.
    – SJuan76
    Sep 21, 2016 at 23:09
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    I can't cite anything but from family experience many women under the Baath regime in Iraq achieved higher education.
    – Ezra
    Sep 23, 2016 at 4:34

2 Answers 2


I think it did. It appears that women had more rights in socialist South Yemen, which declined after the unification with North Yemen.


I too would like to hear from a domain expert. My shallow understanding is that it had nothing to do with Soviet influence, but rather the phenomenon known as Islamic revival that lead to increased social/religious conservatism in the Islamic world, from the 70's onwards.

You cite the example of Iran as a counterexample to Soviet progressive influence. I argue that it was more or less a worldwide zeitgeist of social liberalisation during the first half of the 20th century, caused by modernisation, experienced by middle eastern countries like Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and so forth. But the advent of the latest episode of Islamic revival, marked by major events like the 1970s energy crisis and the return of Ayatollah Khomeini, reversed many of those effects, and introduced things like increased sharia laws, religious observance (e.g. hajj), and rejection of foreign ideologies like Socialism and Capitalism, since Islamism presented itself as an alternative to these.

  • I think this is really simplistic and almost bordering on falsehood view. Religious observance, while low in states like Turkey and Soviet Central Asian Republics, never declined in Rest of the Muslim world. 1970 Energy crisis was a result of West's support of Israel, it had nothing to do with Soviet union. Also while there can be laws based on Sharia, there is no such thing as "Sharia Laws" itself.
    – NSNoob
    Sep 23, 2016 at 8:26
  • However you are correct about rejection of Socialism by the Islamists (Rather than Muslims as there were plenty of Socialist Muslims and Socialist Muslim states) who believe that Islam is a superior ideology to base a state on, rather than Western ideologies.
    – NSNoob
    Sep 23, 2016 at 8:27
  • Also, Khomeini's revolution, while fascinated many young men, failed to achieve support base in Non-Shiite population as Khomeini based his revolution on Shia Islam, not Generic Islam. His sphere of influence was only over shiites who are minority in all Muslim countries except Iran and Azerbaijan. So I don't see how Khomeini could have revived Islamism whose biggest banner bearer are Sunnis who despise or mistrust the Shiite Iran.
    – NSNoob
    Sep 23, 2016 at 8:32

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