6-13-2012By Christiana Renfro
Human Rights Defenders
Egyptians are anxiously awaiting June 16th, when a second round of voting will decide the presidential election, now narrowed down to Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi and Mubarak-era Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik. For Egyptians and international observers, both men’s pasts give cause for concern. Shafik’s association with the Mubarak regime has led many to wonder whether his presidency will bring more of the same corrupt politics and cronyism. Morsi’s association with the Brotherhood begs the question of whether his government would institute conservative Islamist policies at odds with the desires and needs of many Egyptians.
For Egyptian women, however, these questions are complicated by another one: would either of the candidates support female political empowerment and fight the daily injustices faced by many women in Egypt? Despite a court ruling striking down the legality of so-called “virginity tests,” women reportedly continue to suffer daily at the hands of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
In the face of these setbacks, women have consistently fought back. On HarassMap, a website on which users post locations and descriptions of harassment and assault, women actively combat the threatening street culture. And this February, a coalition of women’s organizations, including Nazra (with which Human Rights First works closely), issued a statement criticizing the National Council of Women, a body originally set up by Suzanne Mubarak, wife of former President Hosni Mubarak. The statement called for the establishment of “a temporary committee composed of women’s figures well known for their independence, integrity and efficiency, formed by consensus among women organizations and the Civil Society in order to represent Egyptian women at the local, Arab and international levels,” as opposed to the National Council of Women, which does not accurately reflect the needs of the Egyptian women.
In the presidential election’s first round of voting, several candidates reached out to women. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh led a rally specifically for women, and Shafik promised to appoint a female vice president. More recently, Morsi has insisted that he believes men and women to be equal before the law, and would not change dress requirements for women. Yet in the second round, as the BBC notes, “There is no obvious candidate for [women] to support, if they are opposed both to the old regime and to the rise of Islamism.”
Women’s opinions in the first round of voting give some insight into their current frame of mind. Angie Balata, a participant in protests during the uprising, dismisses the candidates’ recent pledges: “They’re quota-filling. They’re not actually doing anything.” Interviews conducted by the Women’s International Perspective (WIP) indicated that many women place greater importance on economic and social justice issues. “I vote for Morsi, for his economic and political plan,” said Said Ramadan, an Egyptian voter. Some remarked that women’s and men’s issues were indistinguishable, with a supporter of one of the less popular socialist candidates noting that “women’s rights are mainstreamed through social justice.”
According to a WIP poll, fewer than 25% of women noted women’s rights as a priority concern. Overall, the candidate who seems to have gained the most advantage due to the female vote is Morsi, indicating that many women are not deterred by his conservative background.
A court hearing on is scheduled for June 14th to determine whether Shafik himself, like so many candidates before him, is actually ineligible to run. It seems, then, that the outcome of the elections, like the struggle for women’s equality and representation in Egyptian politics, is highly uncertain.