(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Feminism is the latest card being played by both government and opposition in Egypt, just days before the parliamentary elections set for November 28.
Egyptian-born Sunni cleric Youssef Al-Qardawi appears to have sparked the spat after he made an uncharacteristic statement urging woman to get involved.
"Women must leave their isolation," Qardawi told a gathering of Islamist female candidates this week. "They must enter the election campaign to fight the promiscuous and secular women who allege to lead feminist activity."
Qardawi, who is currently based in Qatar, called on Egyptians to support
female candidates more than males, "because women in this society are
The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) was swift in condemning
Qardawi's statements. On its official website, the NDP accused him of
looking down at women.
"Qardawi's statements patronize the roll of women in public life and
complement the discriminatory worldview of the Muslim Brotherhood as
expressed on its website," the NDP statement read.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been banned as a political party in Egypt
since 1954, but party members can run as independent candidates.
Qardawi, for his part, denied that endorsement of women candidates
contradicted the Islamic principle of preventing feminine custodianship
over men. He said that the proportion of women candidates was too small
for any risk of woman dominance.
Only 9 women won seats in the Egyptian parliament in the last elections
five years ago. They represented just 2% of the total seats. But a newly
introduced quota system for women will change that following next
Wafaa' Mashhour, a candidate linked with the Muslim Brotherhood vying
for the woman's seat in the southern governorate of Asyut, said that her
party supported women whereas the NDP has been dropping woman
candidates from its list.
"Many women have represented the Muslim Brotherhood since the year
2000," she told The Media Line. "If it were not for government
restrictions, the number of women candidates would multiply."
Mashhour said that 14 women were running on behalf of the Muslim
Brotherhood in the upcoming elections. She bemoaned the government
crackdown on Brotherhood candidates, citing arrests, threats and
prevention of public campaigning.
"In my first public appearance, the electricity to my microphone was
suddenly cut five minutes into the speech," she said. "This was clearly
intentional. The gathering had been going on for two hours prior to my
The new quota system, legislated by President Husni Mubarak's NDP in
2009, added 32 constituencies comprising two seats each to Egypt's
election map. The legislation does not proportionally change the make-up
of parliament but simply adds 64 seats expanding its membership from
454 to 518.
Critics say the quota will cause Egyptians to shun woman candidates, knowing their seat is ensured.
"We do not support the quota," Mashhour said. "It destroys women's rights and does not represent equality in any way."
Others, however, were more positive about the new quota. Dalia Ziada, an
Egyptian women's rights activist and head of the North Africa Bureau of
the American Islamic Congress, said she supported the quota, but not
for the reason the NDP introduced it.
"The quota is a great step for empowering women and including them in
the decision making process," she told The Media Line. "But the NDP is
using the quota to manipulate the number of its women affiliates in the
parliament. This way, they wish to gain a bigger bloc than any other
group in the People's Assembly."
Arab countries such as Syria, Iraq and Morocco have introduced quotas
for women in parliament. Iraq's 25 percent quota is the most generous,
and Jordan doubled its quota to 12 percent in the parliamentary
elections that took place in the kingdom earlier this month.
"My neighbor, an NDP woman candidate, enjoys full rights and I'm
discriminated against by government," complained Wafaa' Mashhour. "Why
does this happen? Are we not part of Egyptian society?"