Is it Fair to Scrutinize Arab First Ladies?

In a recent article, Nesrine Malik discusses the scrutiny placed upon the wives of Arab leaders in relation to revolution in the Arab world.  Designer-clad extensions of their husbands’ regimes, Malik points out the focus placed upon their lifestyles. Mostly, she draws upon the example of Tunisia’s Leila Ben Ali, Egypt’s Suzanne Mubarak, and Jordan’s Queen Rania. Critiqued as symbols of the greedy and corrupt antics of their husbands, they also represent some of the confusion about what a progressive Arab and Muslim woman actually looks like.

Suzanne Mubarak

Suzanne Mubarak delivers a speech during the opening session of the "Vienna Forum to Fight Human Trafficking," February 13, 2008.

Leila Ben Ali, Tunisia’s former first lady, played a rather large role in some of the most corrupt elements of her husband’s regime.  While serving as the president of the Arab Women’s Organization, her family’s name became synonymous with rampant greed and corruption in Tunisia. Suzanne Mubarak was recognized by UNICEF, the Fulbright organization, UNESCO, and even the World Health Organization for her work in children’s health, shared in her husband’s estimated $70 billion fortune.  While Mubarak was more widely celebrated for her contributions to women’s empowerment and development, Ben Ali still received the odd award for her supposed contributions.

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