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(photo credit: AP [file])
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak vowed on Sunday to increase the number of women serving in parliament, saying women must have a more active voice in the country's male-dominated government.
Women currently hold only nine seats in parliament's 454-member lower house - the lawmaking chamber - including five that are appointed by the president. The other four are elected.
Speaking during Sunday's opening sessions of both houses of parliament, Mubarak urged members to approve laws guaranteeing an increase in the number of women lawmakers.
He did not provide details, but members of his ruling party have said Mubarak wants the number of female lawmakers to reach at least 56 in the lower chamber, with representation from all of the Egypt's governates.
Though parliament must first approve any new election laws, there was little doubt lawmakers - who overwhelmingly belong to the ruling party - would pass Mubarak's proposal.
"I will present to the parliament's two houses important legislative amendments that affirm the society's recognition of the women's role," Mubarak said.
A leading Egyptian women's rights activist said the move to increase the number of women in parliament is an important step - but not a "complete step."
"The current electoral system feeds corruption and not a healthy public life that will guarantee good women's political participation," said Nehad Aboul-Qomsan, the head of the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights.
She said she expected only women from Mubarak's party would be allowed to run and win the women-designated seats. While many would be good candidates, she said not all would have experience in areas of public reform and activism.
"If we had a system where proportional representation and real competition existed, we could benefit from the new seats for women," said Aboul-Qomsan.
Rights groups have long complained that Egypt's elections are flawed and accuse the government of vote rigging to sway the polls in the ruling party's favor.
In the most recent elections in 2007 for parliament's upper chamber - which serves as an advisory body - rights groups reported extensive ballot box stuffing and police blockades of polling sites to prevent opposition supporters from casting ballots.
The Egyptian government insisted the vote was clean, and official results showed a near-sweep by candidates from Mubarak's party.