What Women Wear: Women’s Clothing, Media, and Egypt’s Revolutionary Elections

Women in the Egyptian revolution have been a great source of international attention and appreciation. It is when women participate that you truly can call it a “people’s” revolution.

When the news started to come out about the elections for the Revolutionary Parliament, everyone looked closely for women’s participation; women candidates, women voters, women section in each party program, and women finally winning seats in the parliament. With the general fear from the dominance of the so-called Islamic parties affecting women rights in Egypt in general, and political participation specifically, and with the minimal success of women in the first stage, worries started to get bigger.

A picture for Al Nour party campaign ad with a flower instead of a personal picture for the woman candidate. Source: Al Ahram Newspaper.

“It’s shocking that even after the revolution, this stereotype of women never changed. The domination of radical religious beliefs is widespread,” activist Dalia Ziada, who was eyeing a seat, told Daily News Egypt.

During the various campaigns, one of the most common questions on which so many electoral seminars were based was: Where will women in Egypt be after the revolution? All of the candidates of the so-called Islamic parties focused on statements about hijab, mixed schools, and transportation, and whether it’s permitted for a woman to run for presidency.

Together, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) – the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood – and Al Nour (Arabic for “light”) party, which is a Salafi one, took a considerable majority in the stage one elections. There is a noticeable difference between the two, based on the fact that MB is an old established “political” party, whilst Al Nour is more radical and controversial.  As Yousseri Hamad, spokesman of Al Nour party, stated,

“In the land of Islam, I can’t let people decide what is permissible or what is prohibited… It is God who gives the answers as to what is right and what is wrong.”

Many of the campaigns make specific statements about women. Salafis object to women in leadership roles, translating a hadith of the prophet Muhammad as allegedly saying that “no people succeed if led by women.” However, when election regulations forced all parties to include women, Salafi cleric Yasser el-Bourhami relented, saying that “committing small sins” is better than “committing bigger ones” — by which he meant letting secular people run the government! It makes you think they are somehow forced into accepting women here on the planet.

The Al Nour party campaign poster included a picture of a flower instead of a picture of the woman candidate, while depicting the faces of seven male candidates.  Of course this particular move was the favorite topic for Egyptians over social media to have a lot of jokes, objections, and comments.

Since we’re in a country that is in the making, our most important issues – according to TV talk shows & newspapers – are women wearing high heels, women touching cucumber and bananas, that is indeed together with banning mingling between sexes in public places!

Muna Salah, Al Nour parliament candidate, was surprisingly honest when she confirmed women’s supposed stupidity and inferiority… after all, we’re women, and we’re by default and nature deficient in intelligence and religion, right?  Among her wildest dreams for Egypt after the revolution: segregation between men and women, and making women wear black and men wear white!

Now why is she running for the parliament if she knows that she is so deficient? One can only wonder, except that she answered that question, mentioning that she was only going for partial and not complete authority, which is – naturally – for men.

Hazem Shoman, a well-known so-called Islamic figure, has had a number of famous speeches, one of which explained that a “civilian state” is defined by “your mom not wearing the veil.”

Still, this whole huge focus on these issues was just another proof of the already set patriarchal mentality we suffer from here in our society, and in our media.

The “Beauty” vs “Hottie” picture made by some members and has gone viral over social media. Photo via medantahreer.com.

Non-veiled candidates were not protected from some demeaning and disrespectful comments; one was called “Beauty”, and the other was named “Hottie.”

But I have here to emphasize that even though all these “issues” are annoying and concerning, still these are not the real threats from these parties.

I cannot believe  that not one TV talk show, almost no newspapers column came across what members of these parties – specially FJP – think of laws regarding women and children!

Do they know, for example, that Dr. Manal Abul Hassan, a FJP candidate, stated before that she finds bans on female genital mutilation should be reversed? And she is not an exception; the Muslim Brotherhood has always had trouble with such a law.  Do they know that that she thinks all laws regarding children were just to please the UN and did not work with our societies?  I don’t recall one TV talk show asking about the prior attempts this year to organise protests against family laws in Egypt that came after decades of continuous hard work from dedicated Egyptian women, just because people claimed that these were “Suzanne Mubarak laws.”

But of course no one cares about laws regarding women, so long we have our long detailed talks about what women wear and women bodies.  Who cares if a female child will be circumcised or not? Is she going to go to school with boys? That is the more important question!

What women wear: this will always be our society’s best, favorite, and most important issue.

Since beginning of this year, our hardest battle during this revolution has been, and still is, the mainstream Egyptian media. This obsession with inviting parliamentary candidates to ask them about women’s clothing, swimming wear, and high heels, will not help; in fact, it deepens the problem.