Doaa Abdelaal is an Egyptian Feminist specializing in producing knowledge, networking and lobbying for women’s issues. She has worked extensively with women in politics in the MENA region and is also a board member of Women Living Under Muslim Laws Solidarity Network. You could follow her on @DoaaAbdelaal.
The run-off for presidency elections in Egypt are this weekend – the first after the ongoing Egyptian revolution. The two candidates were the least expected to be at this stage: Mohamed Morsi, who represents the “political arm” of a group, the Muslim Brotherhood, that sees “Islam is the Solution,” and the other is Ahmed Shafik, who belongs to the Military that has been running Egypt for the last (60) years and still. Every one who is following the progress of events and incidents in Egypt is curious and everyone inside Egypt is worried, even if their decision is to choose one over the other or to boycott the run-off.
My main concern when I follow both candidates and their campaigns is how both approach women. From all my follow-ups of their public talks and press conferences I would say they simply do not see “women” or at best they see women in certain frames.
The first held a press conference last week to talk to women and about women’s issues; my conclusion after following the 30 minutes conference is that he talked about “women” in his circles that are usually dressed according to “modest” standards and are engaged in the different structures of the Muslim Brotherhood.
He sees women as mothers and wives who support their families, he played on the issue of economically disadvantaged women or female headed households whom his party is defending in the parliament by issuing them a special law of “health insurance” system, a law that will guarantee them minimal support of $40 for health services. But nothing more about an economic programme that benefits from their capabilities and guarantees them suitable living conditions. In most of his conference time, he compared Egyptian women to western “non-disciplined” women; the latter live in a society that violate them while in Egypt all the deficits of the west such as child abuse and ruined marriages don’t exist. He simply chose to ignore millions of children who live in streets in Egypt escaping abuse and molestations in their homes. He sees women as “Wives” and “Mothers” who need his protection from the evils.
As for the other candidate, I am not sure if he dedicated one of his press conferences to be about women. But in one of his this week, he kissed a girl with a disability who asked him to confirm his promises to support the people with disability in Egypt. A campaign gesture? Maybe. But it’s his attitude mixed of an army commander and a father that upsets me. I don’t want an army man running Egypt again, I am sure Egyptians didn’t and aren’t still sacrificing their lives for a democratic Egypt to be run by another man in a uniform. Especially if the army emphasis we see in big banners all around Egypt is that the relationship between the army and the people is a parental one: A soldier holding a baby “which is assumed to be the Egyptian people” with the famously mocked slogan “The army and the people is one hand.” A typical patriarchal attitude that the army has been practicing openly since of the Supreme Council of Armed forces took power in their hands after Egyptians toppled Mubarak on February 2011.
The two candidates for me are disconnected; while they are running from one press conference to another attacking each other most of the time, women in Egypt were busy with other things. Young women and men who are active on the different platforms of social media were leading a campaign against sexual harassment in the streets, work places and homes in Egypt, a phenomenon that is growing widely and systematically; I assume we all remember the famous picture of the stripped protestor to her blue bra. But they are not only on their keyboards but also in the streets and on mainstream media.
Women groups were busy for weeks advocating and lobbying for the representation of women in the assembly that will draft the constitution. They compiled names and profiles of diversified candidates who were simply neglected by the electing committee but results were far from disappointing. The percentage of women represented in the assembly is 7% (7 members) and three out of these seven belong to the Freedom and Justice Party, the party of the Muslim Brotherhood which has the majority in the parliament.
Whoever will win has to stop seeing women as an electoral bulk and start listening to them. I am not sure this could happen having seen both candidates’ profiles. But the lesson is learnt by women groups in Egypt who will continue and escalate their work as they have realized it is a long struggle. They understand that women are different in needs and in demands. And politics should be the zone for women to meet these demands and needs. A healthy sign of the movement is that it is diversified in age and in experience and space is given for newcomers to the movement who label themselves as women citizens who have specific needs and want to achieve certain demands.
Whatever the result will be of the run-off, the struggle now is for a constitution that guarantees a civil state (neither police/military nor religious) that respects personal freedoms. It will not be an easy struggle but it is time to have it.