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Presidential elections offer little to inspire Egypt’s women

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Julie Tomlin
WVoN co-editor

Whatever the outcome of Egypt’s presidential election, it’s unlikely that either of the two men entering the June runoff offer much hope for women’s rights campaigners.

Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi and Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq have emerged as the two candidates who will be in the 16-17 June ballot.

But as some of their opponents get ready to appeal the result because of alleged voting irregularities, there are no candidates who claim to represent the interests of the women who took part in the uprising of January 2011 that overthrew longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.

Television presenter Bothaina Kamel was the only woman to stand for the presidential election (see WVoN story) and she failed to make the ballot.

None of the candidates have expressed any interest in women’s rights and violence and intimidation by the ruling military has continued.

Irrespective of whether it’s a member of Mubarak’s “old guard” or the Islamists who wins, it’s a time when women are at risk of being pushed further out of public life in Egypt, women’s rights activists claim.

“Not a single candidate made efforts to sit down with the female coalition’s movement during his campaign, except for Amr Moussa,” Fatma Emam, a blogger and researcher at Nazra for Feminist Studies is reported to have said.

“What’s happening now in the elections shows that women’s rights are not a concern.”

Women’s rights campaigners, along with other opponents of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) are concerned that, as was the case with the parliamentary elections, the presidential race is an attempt by the military to legitimise its power.

As Women’s Views on News’ new patron, the activist and writer Nawal El Saadawi argued recently, the movement has succeeded in only removing the “serpent’s head” while the body of the regime remains.

As what she describes as the “counter revolution” gathers strength, many are less concerned with the outcome of the elections than they are with how much power the SCAF will continue to wield.

Challenging the power of the military, including its heavy-handed use of military trials has become a major focus for many in the movement.

Women’s struggles have become closely tied to it as a result of “virginity tests” allegedly inflicted on women such as Samira Ibrahim and others; and the use of excessive violence against female protesters including the “woman in the blue bra”.

In a climate when the revolution itself seems under threat, it’s easy to see why social issues, including women’s rights, are not at the forefront of the debate.

Indeed, many younger women who were active in the revolution have been reluctant to focus on the issue of gender – as demonstrated by some who were angry at what they argued was a fixation with the “blue bra” woman and the angry reactions towards journalist Mona Eltahawy’s Foreign Policy article Why do they Hate Us?

Other activists believe, like El Saadawi, that there cannot be true democracy if it does not apply to women.

For them, the presidential elections, along with the parliamentary elections when just 10 women won seats, are not the key issue, even if Egypt’s candidates are waking up to the fact that women’s votes could be key to their success.

As Nehad Abu ElKomsan, of the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights was reported saying, ”at an individual level” women have become very strong since the revolution.

“They faced a very severe situation… even women who were not involved in any uprising movement, they have been in their homes responsible for everything in very difficult circumstances, and this makes them gain courage and self-confidence so they become stronger”.

Whatever way the votes go in the presidential elections, it seems clear that “old politics” are unlikely to deliver progressive policies on women’s rights.

But it’s also clear that many women will continue fighting for their voices to be heard in the drafting of the new constitution and in shaping a new Egypt that is entirely free from its old rulers.

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