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"We support a woman's right to education, to employment, even to become a Member of Parliament or government minister - but not to occupy the position of national sovereign”. Essam al-Arian, vice-president of the Justice and Freedom Party (JFP), the Muslim Brotherhood political arm[i].

 “I intend to run for president to show the world that Egypt is a modern country, in which women are afforded the right to vie for the highest position of state, which – like the right to vote – is a basic human right”. Buthaina Kamel, female candidate for the Egyptian presidential elections[ii].

“We did a survey that was composed of only one question. Would you accept to see your president as a woman? One hundred percent of them said 'no.' This is what people think, it's OK to have democracy, but women are not in the equation of democracy.” Diala Ziada, female Egyptian activist who ran for Parliament.  

Political Representation 

As per 17.06.2012

Acting Head of State

Muhammad Hussein Tantawi (Head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces)

Current Head of Government

Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri

Female members of Government

N/A (government in transition)

People’s Assembly (lower house of Parliament)

10/508 or 2% (2011)

Consultative Council/Shura Council (upper house of Parliament)

5/180 or 2.8% (2012) 

Number of women who are planning to run for presidential election in 2012

One (Bothaina Kamel)

Outcome of the presidential and parliamentary elections

The central feature, which dominated the first round of the parliamentary elections on 2 December, was the high turnout rate, as 62% of eligible voters cast their ballot. In subsequent rounds, turnout decreased, partially because Egyptians were not given a day off to vote. The overall voter turnout for all rounds is estimated at 54%[iii].

Islamist parties clearly dominated the elections. The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has won 47% of all seats in the lower house, while the far more fundamentalist al-Nour “the Party of the Light” emerged in second place with 24%. The rise of al-Nour has raised concern among observers as their leaders openly support the introduction of the harshest interpretation of Islamic law and call for women to be veiled and segregated. The liberal al-Wafd party won about 22% and the remaining of the seats was divided between smaller parties[iv].

Women running on party lists were placed far down on those lists, giving them virtually no chance of getting into office. This was true for all parties, including Islamists and liberals[v].

The elections for the upper house of Parliament are still ongoing and final numbers will be available after 22 February. The Presidential election is now scheduled for May 2012[vi].

Gender equality in Egypt

In 1957, Egypt was the first country in the Arab world to elect a woman into parliament, having allowed women to vote just the year prior[vii]. During the rule of Gamal Nasser, girls were encouraged to attend school and women to join the workforce as part of the overall push for economic development in the country.

Nowadays, while women may work outside the home, attend school and university and can participate in democratic life, progress seems to have stalled on several fronts in the past years. The literacy rate for women is only 58% and only 23% of the workforce is made of women. Progress also remains to be seen in the constitution, where, despite upholding equality between the sexes, women still face discrimination, notably in inheritance and divorce laws.

The first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections occurred in September 2011 and the presidential election is due to take place in March 2012. These upcoming elections are critical to how the country shapes its future, and will give us clues about the emerging political landscape and to the level of involvement and influence women will have as candidates and voters.

Observers have expressed disappointment that no women were included in the 63 persons group drafting the package of constitutional amendments, which was passed on March 19, 2011 with 77% of the vote. The amendments, which established presidential term limits among other things, also contained a provision which some believe limits the presidency to only men. In addition, the amendments contained no reference to equality for women, but did not change the quota for women’s participation in Parliament’s lower chamber, currently set as 64 of 444 seats[viii].  Egyptian women's political representation is low, with only 18 women in the 264-member Consultative Council[ix].

Despite new election regulations, which forced political parties to include women on their lists, women’s membership and representation in political parties remains weak, and representation on municipal councils is less than 3%. Political parties have managed to counteract the regulation by placing women on the bottom of the lists, giving them close to zero chance of being elected.

Conclusion

Egypt has had a series of elections in the past months, which will end in May 2012 with the presidential election. The present outcome of the elections has illustrated the rise of Islamist parties, which will also provide a test case opportunity as to whether the presence of fundamental Islamists is compatible with the respect of women’s rights.

So far, the outcome for women appears bleak. Only 2% were elected upper house and the mentalities are slow to change. Buthaina Kamel, a 49-year old TV presenter has already announced her candidacy to the presidential elections. Although she admits her chances of being elected are close to none, she is doing it out of principle to show the world that Egypt is a modern country where women have the right to vote and run for office[x]. So far, she is the only female candidate.



[i] First Woman Candidate Begins Campaign, IPS, 31 October 2011 http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=105654

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Muslim Brotherhood tops Egyptian poll result, Al Jazeera, 22 January 2012. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/01/2012121125958580264.html  

[iv] Ibid.

[v] In Egypt's New Parliament, Women Will Be Scarce. NPR, 19 January 2012.

http://www.npr.org/2012/01/19/145468365/in-egypts-new-parliament-women-will-be-scarce

[vi] Egypt to hold presidential poll in May: report. Reuters, 15 February 2012.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/15/us-egypt-president-vote-idUSTRE81E0AV20120215

[vii] Women in Politics: Beyond Numbers http://archive.idea.int/women/parl/studies1a.htm

[x]First Woman Candidate Begins Campaign, IPS, 31 October 2011 http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=105654


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