Egypt: Women's groups press Mursi for full rights

Women’s rights activists call on Egypt’s new leader to appoint female vice president, cabinet members and other officials.

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July 3, 2012 04:56
4 minute read.
Mohamed Mursi sworn in as Egypt's president

Mursi sworn in 370. (photo credit: REUTERS )

 
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Leading Egyptian women’s rights activists called on newly elected President Mohamed Mursi on Monday to appoint women to his cabinet and to increase women’s representation in government ministries.

Mursi, who was sworn in as president on Saturday, has previously pledged to include women in his new government.

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Last week, Mursi told newspaper editors that he had no plans to restrict women’s rights, while his policy adviser, Ahmed Deif, told CNN that one of the new president’s first steps will be to appoint a Christian vice president and a female vice president.

Yet there are concerns among some women’s groups that a Muslim Brotherhood president could result in Egypt moving closer to Islamist states like Iran and Afghanistan.

On Monday, Dr. Azza Kamel, the leader of Cairobased NGO Parliament of Women, told al-Watan News that women’s leaders want to arrange a meeting with Mursi to talk about women in the new cabinet and women’s role in the drafting of a new constitution.

Parliament of Women works to build the capacity of women in local and national government, as well as raise awareness and mobilize public opinion about women’s roles in drafting Egypt’s new constitution.

Kamel told al-Watan that in Mursi’s four speeches as president, he had not addressed women directly but had referred to “men of Egypt” and only later had said he was talking about both men and women.

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In a pre-election speech, Mursi declared that “the Koran is our constitution, [and] the prophet is our leader,” raising fears that he would seek a constitution based on Shari’a (Islamic law).

Although Mursi himself has preached unity and inclusiveness, his Freedom and Justice Party – an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood – formally asserts that “Egypt is a civil state with an Islamic reference” According to a statement from the party, Egypt’s constitution must state that Shari’a law should be applied “in all walks of life,” because Shari’a “is the source of wisdom and divine mercy, and as a response to the demands of the majority of the Egyptian people who believe that the Shari’a is the best method to ensure the reformation of the conditions of our society that will lead it to happiness and progress.”

However, the new president’s powers to influence the new constitution have been reduced. On June 17, after voting closed in the runoff elections, Egypt’s military junta announced a constitutional declaration that grants them wide powers, including the authority to draft a new constitution.

Kamel added that if Mursi adopted the political platform of his Freedom and Justice Party, it would mean “a loss of rights for Egyptian women who contributed greatly to the [Egyptian] revolution.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Hoda Badran, the chairman of the Egyptian Women’s Union, commented to al-Watan that because of Mursi’s background – including in the Muslim Brotherhood – it would be hard for him to change his attitude toward women.

Badran said Mursi had an obligation to fulfill his promises to appoint a woman vice president and to increase the number of women working in government ministries.

The feminist leader told al- Watan she was concerned that there could be a decline of women’s rights in Egyptian society if the president followed the policies of his Freedom and Justice party.

More than 1,000 women’s organizations cooperated to reestablish the Egyptian Women’s Union last year. On Monday, the organization began a campaign on Facebook and Twitter to encourage women to tell Mursi what they expected of him as president.

The initiative, dubbed “I Demand from the President,” calls on women to send their demands to Mursi to be presented to him on July 13.

“Did you know that Egyptian women make up 40% of Egypt’s households? Did you know that half of Egyptians live below the poverty line and that two-thirds of them are women!!!” the campaign’s mandate reads.

“Mr. President, I don’t want your protection, because I’m not weak, but I want my full rights,” “I demand equal citizenship,” “Women’s rights are human rights” and “My voice is not awrah [an Islamic concept meaning the parts of the body that should be covered] – my voice is revolution, revolution,” were some of the messages women posted on Monday.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, prominent Egyptian women’s rights activist Nihad Abu al- Qumsan, said a third of Mursi’s new cabinet should be women.

Speaking on Nile Television Network’s Naharak Saeed morning program, Qumsan, who heads the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR), said that women would be well suited to the health, tourism, finance, economics, international relations and education ministries.

Not all Egyptian women’s activists want a role in Mursi’s government, however.

Speaking to the Aswat Masriya election news site on Monday, activist Rabab al- Mahdi, who worked as a political counselor for expresidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, said she would not accept a cabinet post and preferred to stay in the opposition.

Al-Mahdi, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo, dismissed as “unfounded” women’s fears that an Islamist president may impose restrictions on them.

“Egypt’s problem is not the veil but there is certainly a problem related to the status of women in Egypt,” al- Mahdi told Aswat Masriya.

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