Stop Using Us: Women’s Votes in the Egyptian Presidential Elections

Stop Using Us: Women’s Votes in the Egyptian Presidential Elections June 4, 2012

During the Egyptian elections campaigning, women were, of course, targeted by those looking for votes.

Akher KalamFinal Wordsis one of the most viewed TV talk shows in Egypt.  As with most Egyptian media outlets lately, it has been paying much attention to the elections, and its coverage of women’s issues in the Egyptian elections is typical of how many other media outlets were talking about these topics. That show had earlier had an episode with Christian guests, to focus on issues of interest to them, and in its May 16 episode, it turned its attention to women.

The guests on the episode dedicated to women’s issues were representatives of five of the thirteen final candidates for stage one of the presidential elections.  The guests themselves could give you some indication on the audience each candidate has chosen to attract, and more importantly, the Egyptian women who were willing to participate actively in such an experience.

Akher Kalam
Still image from the Akher Kalam episode focused on women's issues in the Egyptian presidential elections. Via Al-Mogaz.

The Abou El-Fotouh and Hamdeen Sabahy campaigns chose university students as their representatives among the show’s guests. Hamdeen had built his whole campaign on being secular, unlike Abou El-Fotouh, who is categorised as an Islamist.  It’s no surprise, then, that a division could be seen between their two representatives (one was veiled and the other was not) – that’s how people see them, and how they want to be seen.

Morsey, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, sent a trained member of the MB, who knows a lot about the history of who Muslim Brotherhood are. She works as a university professor.

The Moussa and Al-Awa campaigns chose older women with more experience, in opposition to the glamour of some of the younger representatives.

Contrary to my initial impression, youth was not a positive factor. Most of the time, the two younger guests sounded like they were memorizing words.  The MB member was the most experienced one of them regarding what to say, and how to say it, together with Moussa’s representative, who also looked, sounded and acted confident.

For the first 10 minutes, it was really boring! Fouda reading news about families breaking because different members were supporting different candidates, and jokes about whether mothers tried to affect their daughters’ votes in the kitchens!

Islamic politics” will be bad for women: That could have easily been the title of that episode. All the discussions were focused on how a religious state will oppress women and discriminate against them. No one tried to look a few steps backwards to see if the previous “military” state gave women in Egypt any rights whatsoever.

Personally I am against Muslim Brotherhood taking over the country, but not only for women’s sake, for the whole country’s sake. For their vision when it comes to rotation of powers, for their faulted interpretation of Islamic economy, and for their minimal – if any – belief in all what citizenship means, not only based in gender, but related to race, religion, and orientations as well.

Women are used – and often, as in that episode, by women – as a tool for propaganda. “Don’t vote for Islamic candidates or your daughter will be circumcised!” is the sum up of most of the so-called secular candidates. While on the other hand you hear the words “Islam has always valued women!” in the speech of every supposedly Islamic candidate.

The whole thing is a show. Fouda’s introduction was about how women in Egypt are not a small sector, and how according to the last population numbers, they make up the equivalent of 5 Qatars!

This is statically true, but in reality it is of no importance when it comes to elections since women are not a unit of their own like some other countries when you see candidates are addressing certain issues that specifically concern women. Women movement in Egypt has not yet developed into stating their priorities and main targets when it comes to what they expect from their governments.

Even now, while we are waiting for stage two of the elections to start, women again are being used as a tool. Right now we are either to choose a religious fascist state with the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, or a military oppressive state with the former regime candidate, and all that social media seems to care about is not to vote for the MB candidate or else women will suffer like they did in Iran, Gaza and Sudan!

So women were not suffering during Mubarak regime when human trafficking was all over the country and 14-year-old girls were forced to marry old Gulf men for money? Do you know that the Egyptian law stating the maximum difference of age between a married couple was adapted to Mubarak’s son who was 21 years older than his wife?  Were women not suffering when Mubarak’s  police used to arrest and torture women who were members of the opposition parties and torture them?

I am not in any way defending the religious state over the military one. I just refuse to be fooled into thinking that only religion is what could be used against me. Patriarchy has no religion, and no political affiliation when it comes to women.  Either way, its effects are the same.

So a message to all candidates:
We have many NGO’s working for women in this country.  You can collaborate with them on how to build a real women’s union around which all women of the nation gather, and you can start facing the real core of the problems.  For example, you can send some of your funds and active youth to Upper Egypt and the rural areas to see how laws have not reached these places yet: where women have minimal education and sometimes none, little girls are being circumcised, beaten up, and forced to marry and have children before they turn 20, and where mothers have no real internal power to deliver to their children.
Otherwise, please stop saying you believe in women’s role in the country.

Message to all Egyptian women:
Over the years, we have been used and not given anything in return. It is either laws that look fancy but with no window for any realistic application, or a religious discourse that was twisted to prove to the whole world that God only created religion to give men power over women, or a fake secular community that stripped a woman from all what she really is and just focused on her body, how it looks, and is it covered or not.
Religion is what you believe in your heart, politics is what you want for your children, and women’s rights is letting you chose and enjoy both religion and politics, with no one imposing their beliefs on you.
Let them have their shows and enjoy their games, but don’t allow them to use you to win points… at not least without you winning anything too!

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