Egypt: The unclear future of women

Publication Date: 
September 19, 2011

, September 13, 2011‑Egyptian women currently face numerous threats that will not only destroy the goals of equality, freedom and change voiced in the January revolution, but the advances women have made over the last century.

Because Mrs. Mubarak was extremely active in women’s issues, including the advancement of women’s rights, many Egyptians, especially men, equate women’s rights with the former corrupt dictatorship of Hosni Mubara.

As a result of Mr. Mubarek’s fall, there is a move to reject the advances Egyptian women have made over the last several years.

After burning down the National Council for Women's Rights, some men began demanding that the government revise all laws related to marriage, divorce, and even child custody and visitation.  Protestors claimed that most women's rights were biased, favoring women simply to please the wife of ex-president Mubarak, instead of allowing Egyptian women in the 21st Century to have the right to education and financial security.

In general, women are considered second-class citizens in Egypt.  Many Egyptian women lack any education, and more than 50 percent can neither read nor write.

It was not until the 1990s that women received the right to file for divorce.  The law of female inheritance has been terribly abused by the male dominant society.  Woman is not allowed to “inherit” from their parents, or even a husband, as the money reverts to the male family members to be managed. 

Those ‘family’ men all too often take the family savings – often built up with the contributions of a working wife - for themselves, leaving widows to struggle to feed their children or pay their bills.

Moreover, there is a portion of the Egyptian population that misinterprets Islam as saying women are inferior.  For illiterate women living outside the cities, they take this bastardization of Islam along with examples such as inheritance laws that give women half of what a man would receive to reinforce their inferior status.

Another threat that women are facing is the rise of militant Islamic groups, including Salafi and the Muslim Brotherhood, who are against any serious role for, or even the participation of women in politics.

According to their misinterpretation of Islam, they deny women a right to judge or rule. 

The Women’s Associations in Egypt has expressed anger at this sentiment through protests and statements.  The first woman judge in Egypt, Tahani El Gebally says, “Where is the right of women for president?

As a result of the backlash and the rise of militant Islam, women did not participate in any political committees after the fall of the Mubarak regime.  No political party has put forward a woman in the campaign for the coming parliament. 

There is real concern that Egyptian women, who have fought so hard for rights and equality, are losing what they have gained and the opportunity of tomorrow. 

As a new political landscape emerges, it appears there is limited opportunity for women to shape the future of Egypt.  In fact, based on current sentiment, woman may have no voice at all.

Anwaar Abdalla, Ph.D. , is a native of Cairo, Egypt and lecturer at Helwan Unv. Ms. Abdalla is also in demand as a lecturer on Egyptian history, Muslim culture and the antiquities and the sites and history of ancient Egypt.