When Egyptians went to Tahrir Square in late January 2011 it was not only a people’s revolution against the Mubarak regime, but also a women’s revolution. Both Muslim conservative and liberal women stood alongside men as the uprising eventually led to the deposing of Mubarak. Many hoped that women’s rights would improve as a consequence of the revolution. One year has passed since Mubarak stepped of the throne, and not much has changed for Egypt’s women.
Disappointment is widespread among those who dared to go to the streets and protest, mobilize and organize a revolution that would not only oust Mubarak but also give them more rights. The women of Egypt have recently seen their hopes of political representation turn into a fiasco as the newly elected parliament is full of men – and this time an even higher number than before the revolution.
Already at the end of last year, when voting for the 498 of the 508 seats to the People’s Assembly of Egypt had started, Mara Revkin, editor of Egypt Source and assistant director at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, feared that women would be absent in Egypt’s new parliament. And she was right. Women received only two per cent of the seats in the parliament, 11 of the 498 seats, which is around 50 seats less than during Mubarak. It would have not been possible to change the entrenched patriarchy of Egypt in 18 days, during which Egyptians led the revolution against Mubarak. But as the Military Council took power, legal amendments have made it more difficult for women to get a seat in the parliament. Previously, a quota of 64 women made sure that a certain number of women got representation in the parliament. Today, the obligatory one female candidate per political party makes it almost impossible for women to receive any representation – most of them end up at the very end of the party list.
No doubt, Mubarak was more occupied with keeping his power over Egypt than turning it into a country with equal rights for men and women. Still, the former political system allowed women to become visible in the Egypt’s politics, Mara Revkin writes. She quotes one female candidate: “Women are just there for decoration” and as the big winners of the election are parties with Islamist values, it may be hard for Egypt’s women to gain power after the country’s first democratic election in many years has taken place. Sexual harassments still prevail and virginity tests have been conducted on female protesters at Tahrir Square after Mubarak was ousted. Conservative powers have wanted to eradicate all those victories that Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne Mubarak, has achieved for Egypt’s women. One example is the divorce law that allowed women to get a divorce without having to show any evidence of being abused by their husbands, which today may be annulled. Additionally, the political elite wants to abolish all that is connected to the former dictator – women are at risk of becoming disadvantaged during the cleansing process.
Soon after the ousting of Mubarak, the political activist Naomi Wolf wrote about a well educated group of females who compared to older generations had the knowledge and tools to join the revolution at Tahrir Square and in the social media. They consisted of both more Muslim conservative and liberally oriented women, in a democratically inclusive formation that brought to many the hope of a female revolution in Egypt.
“The Middle East’s despots are facing a situation in which it will be almost impossible to force these awakened women to stop their fight for freedom”, Wolf claims in her article. Indeed, with the strong will of a determined group of disenchanted people change may come. The only question is when it will come for the women of Egypt.