maha al aswad



Get Your Hands Off Women

Get your hands off women[i]

When the sparks of the Egyptian Revolution started to fly, friends of mine abroad interested in human rights and justice started to express their concerns openly about where the situation in Egypt was taking us. In the wake of most revolutions in the modern world, women have always ended up getting the short end of the stick. It is as though revolutions are historical records of chauvinist tales brimming with heroic feats that men alone have accomplished. Eventually, the moment of truth comes when those men gather together. Barring women from their closed council, they issue orders from on high and decide what rights women may or may not receive.

My Egyptian female friends and I disregarded their worrisome comments. After all, we were down in the streets and the squares. We never felt, not even for a second, a difference between our role as female revolutionaries and that of our male counterparts: the mission was one, the way was one, and the goal was one.

Our friends abroad were right, though not because the Revolution itself had taken power and discriminated women; rather because the elements that ended up taking power after the Revolution are two of the most powerful types of Fascism the world has known: military fascism and religious fascism. Sadly, the Revolution did not govern; those who know nothing about the Revolution’s principles have taken power. In the simplest terms, what ended up happening was a re-birth of the old regime. The military (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, SCAF) took control the day Mubarak resigned. Thereafter, the first signs of discrimination started to appear. The first hint of things to come is enshrined in the constitutional amendments proposed concerning the Article stipulating the conditions for presidential elections of the Egyptian Republic. Initially, the bill clearly indicated that men alone would be able to run. Although it was later modified, it still reflected public opinion on the role of women in public affairs in the ‘New Egypt’. Following this disconcerting pattern, the case of forced virginity tests of female protestors happened, what might as well be called misogynist inquisition-like trials. In effect, this event confirmed the historical, chauvinist conception of women: women are only bodies, whose honor – as far as society is concerned – is predicated on their reproductive organs; from these several centimeters of flesh they can be either pardoned or condemned to death.

Elections came as a definitive alternative to revolutionaries’ incapacity to organize themselves and present a strong alternative for the military in running the transitional period. Most groups within the revolutionary vanguard refused to participate in parliamentary elections and those from the revolutionary front that did participate are out of question in terms of their patriotism and belief in the revolution principles, the most important of which being the equality for all Egyptians before the law.

Be that as it may, life is not a bowl of cherries. The Revolution failed to get enough votes and the revolutionaries remain under-represented in the People’s Assembly. The Islamists won the majority. Remaining parliamentary seats won by non-Islamists do not necessarily represent revolutionary opinion. If one follows the current course of affairs, it is obvious that the principles called for and carried by the revolution are and will be absent from most debates, decisions, and laws passed in Egypt’s Parliament.

The First Signs Appear


Take, for example, Muhammad Umda, a respectable Member of Parliament (MP) in the People’s Assembly. Umda is not affiliated with the Islamists, which is quite surprising, as we shall see. A former member of the Wafd Party, Umda ran for Parliament as an independent. Yet it is Mr. Umda who spoke in Parliament, not only in the name of his constituents – both men and women – from Aswan, but also in the name of the Egyptian people and demanded the repeal of Article 20. Known as the Article of al-khul’, the right of a woman to seek divorce according to Islamic law, Article 20 (Law no. 1, year 2000) pertains to the some of the judicial conditions and litigatory proceedings in personal affairs (i.e. family court).

According to a report published in the paper Shorouk dated Saturday, March 17, Umda declared that Article 20, “allows women to end their marital lives independently, without oversight or the slightest consideration for the rights of family and society.” In fact, when I read this sentence I broke out in hysterical laughter, a hardy guffaw for the sake of Schadenfreude.

Up until 2000, the husband was the only partner with the right “to end his marital life independently, without oversight or the slightest consideration of the rights of family and society.” All he had to do is say three simple words: I divorce you. That is it. Just these three magical words anytime, anywhere, for whatever reason he deemed fit. Yet no one asked themselves over the decades why husbands alone should enjoyed this right. Egyptian women, themselves packed like sardines into the hallways and corridors of family courts, did not demand for their rights; Egyptian mothers did not even appeal for the rights of their children who are taken away from them by court order.

For women seeking divorce, the average length of divorce proceedings lasts between 3-8 years. It is quite difficult for a woman seeking a divorce to prove that her husband has mistreated her. After all, most abuse occurs behind closed doors. Therefore, there is seldom any witness of the purported abuse to justify a wife’s application for divorce. Article 20 – the Article al-khul’ – was passed as a means by which wives could free themselves of this endless oppression.

The mere proposition of Umda’s bill is tantamount to a serious impairment of women’s rights as citizens in Egypt. It is an attempt to deal with women as though they were second-class citizens. In an addendum to Umda’s statements printed in Shorouk, Umda is quoted as saying: “What if a wife actually applies for divorce (khul’) on the grounds that she is no longer in love and afraid of God’s divine punishment, but that in fact all she wants is to be rid of her husband just because he refuses to let her travel abroad.” The question here is: Why does the law allow a husband to have control over his wife to this degree? Isn’t marriage in its most basic understanding an equal partnership, wherein both spouses look out for each other, a relationship based on compromise, as well as care for each other’s benefit? Or has it devolved into a contract for buying a slave-girl, whose master controls her and forces her to stay with him against her will? When a husband resorts to courts to ban his wife from travelling, or forces her to do something, or invokes his right as her guardian, in that moment the notion of a mutual partnership and compromise dissipates. Life thereafter becomes impossible. The most appropriate solution is for them both to separate honorably.

In another statement, Umda is quoted as having said the following: “What if a wife decided to leave her husband and kids to run off with a rich man who has seduced her?” Here, I stop at the word “seduce”. This is the same stone-age mentality that looks at women as creatures in need of being placed under the custodianship or watchful eye of some man even after she has reached the age of maturity.  According to this logic, the custodianship of a woman is transferred from the family to the husband precisely because she is a naïve creature, incapable of understanding what is good for her welfare. The logical conclusion to this argument is that she needs someone to make decisions for her. But even an unscrupulous person could easily sell her to a rich man.

Simply put, if the wife resolves to end the marriage for whatever reason she deems fit, and decides that life is no longer tolerable with her husband, the husband can still rely on the law to force her to stay in this unbearable situation. This state of affairs is paramount to the decline of individual honor and the rise of a husband’s authoritarian power. Sadly, this situation is in fact enshrined in Egypt’s legal code. According to Egyptian law, a husband has the right to marry more than once and end a marriage whenever he pleases.

Perhaps we can excuse Umda for his position. After all, based on his statements it seems that he bought a wife according to a marriage contract and, by extension, anything bought can easily be re-bought or sold! But the situation itself is still incredible. Umda, as he stood on the floor of the People’s Assembly and made his statements, effectively flirted with the Islamist Parliamentarians. In 2012, well after Egypt’s dignified Revolution had run its course, Umda argued that men should have custodianship over women. This is not surprising in light of additional information, however.  For example, in other news it is reported that MP Umda is trying to gather enough signatures from his fellows MPs to run for President of the Republic; Umda has thanked the leaders of the Salafist Nour Party for giving their members the unfettered freedom to chose whom they want for President.

The dawn of the ‘modern state’ ushered in the legal state, the latter being a governmental system that treats its citizens – both male and female – equally. No one is to have custodianship over anyone else who has reached the legally recognized adult age. Under such a state, different levels whereby one can or cannot receive his/her full rights should not exist. Unfortunately, most people reject, if not outright seek to avoid, attempts to build such a state in Egypt after our honorable Revolution. These people want to send Egypt back into the Dark Ages, without a chance of return.

[i] I wrote this article in Arabic – posted on . It was translated to English by Scott Chahanovich, a freelance translator and cultural journalist – posted on

A reading in the psychology of Arabic sexual swearing

“The son/daughter of a man who was screwed” is considered swearing in the Egyptian context. A man that is being screwed means he must be gay. Unfortunately, homosexuality is considered a big shame in this part of the world. Homosexuals are mostly considered “less men” than heterosexuals in conservative people minds ( a majority). But then what  exactly is manhood? To be able to screw around without being screwed?

What I don’t really understand is why “The son/daughter of a woman who was screwed” is considered Egyptian swearing while it only states a biological fact. I guess here the physical act itself indicates inferiority in case of the person who is being screwed, let it be a male or a female. But the superiority will always be for males in all cases ( since they are the ones who are capable of physically screwing around).

The second phrase is the one that is most commonly used- at least in the Egyptian context. Furthermore, just mentioning the slang Arabic name for the female genitals of someone’s mother/sister is considered swearing. Yes. Just that. Without describing it or anything. Just mentioning it is considered a huge insult for men. My own interpretation is that it works as a reminder to men of where they originally came from: a “poor weak” woman’s vagina that must had been screwed before.

On the other hand, mentioning someone’s male genitals is not considered an insult. Actually,  if you are a male, mentioning your own penis can offend anyone you want to insult. For example, to say ” My penis on something/someone ” means you are indicating you are powerful and you can actually screw anything and anyone you don’t like. Unfortunately, females can’t do the same. A female can’t go on and say ” My vagina on…”. It simply doesn’t make sense. Vaginas can’t screw anyone, they are meant to be screwed which is a shame in the public mind.

When a football team wins a game, supporters would say: “we screwed them really hard!”  I remember there was a football magazine cover that featured a photo of the coach of the Egyptian national team in a groom’s tuxedo getting married to the coach of the other team who lost the game the other night, of course in the bride’s gown.

So having a female’s genitals means you can be screwed and means you are vulnerable and weak. Having a male’s genitals means you can screw around and means you have the power.

I personally find Freud’s psycosexual development theory sexist and rather pathetic. Nevertheless, Arabs after all the years are proving the Freudian complexes right. In the Arab men’s sub/conscious, it is all about having a penis- and NOT being screwed, which is highly reflected in their swearing.


Egypt In Transition: Women’s Movement On Crossroads

I was humbled by an invitation from Socialist International Women to be their keynote speaker in their regional meeting in Rabat, Morocco, September 30, 2011- as an Egyptian blogger.

The theme of the meeting was “The Role of Arab Women in Emerging Democracies”.

This is the speech I delivered during the meeting earlier today.

“ In Tahrir square, I felt for the first time that women are equal to men” . These were words of Nawal El Saadawi, the famous Egyptian feminist who spent her entire life struggling for gender equality in Egypt.
The fact that we all felt that way in Tahrir. Tahrir was a large space that gathered a diversity of people of different intellectual, social and political affiliations, not only linked together for the sake of single goal, but there was this kind of  tolerance and the sense of acceptance of the different other.

But it was not only in Tahrir for young Egyptian women who decided long before the revolution to participate in small demonstrations calling to end injustices and corruption. For us to talk about lack of equality was absurd because we always had the feeling we have already achieved it by taking to streets and calling for freedom to all Egyptians. We were surrounded by the same police cordons as men, we were exposed to the same humiliation and degradation from the police and the chances of kidnapping and torturing us by state security agents were equal. We have liberated ourselves and conquered fear and therefore we are free. The sense of freedom is internally formed inside you, no one can take that from you, even if you are surrounded by a million walls. Many of Egyptian women who decided for the first time to participate in the demonstrations on 25 January or later in Tahrir, definitely had the same feeling of self-liberation.

The announced locations for gathering and starting the marches on January 25th were the main squares and in front of big mosques and churches. But in fact, that marches began earlier from places security wouldn’t have imagined. This was intentional so as not to disburse marches from the very beginning. Groups of 200-300 activists headed to various locations in Cairo and Giza and other governorates, in the middle of the crowded urban slums and neighborhoods. At a certain point we all started chanting against the regime. As we were marching in Nahya street among the crowd and in the middle  of all the shouting that fill the throats, I looked around  to find more than half of the group are young Egyptian females, veiled and not veiled, coming forward and leading the chants.  Along the march, which was one of hundreds across Egypt, we managed to escape all of the police attempts of preventing and stopping us. Hundreds then thousands of people joined us, which was the main aim of the march.  I get the shivers whenever I remember that day. In Tahrir,  women had the same roles played by men with no exceptions. Doctors in the field hospitals, members of the committees for inspection  and the popular committees responsible for security and protection of Tahrir. Even in times when thugs and Mubarak cronies attacked Tahrir, we were in the front-line ready to die for freedom.
I always like to tell an incident that happened to me personally in Tahrir square. I went to a Mosque in Tahrir to use the toilet in the Social occasions room attached to it. I found a long queue of ladies who were wearing Hijab, talking to each others in groups while waiting their turn. I heard a lady then reminding everyone about the “silent march” planned later that day in Tahrir only for women.  She further explained that it is silent because women shouldn’t be talking or shouting ( from an Islamic point of view) and that they will write everything they want to say on banners and signs and carry them along. I stood there in surprise, feeling I shouldn’t interfere, being totally alien to the scene, with my uncovered hair and my tights. I hoped that a lady with a Hijab would interfere, because if I did, I won’t have the same credibility she would have.  This is exactly what happened. Suddenly another lady who is wearing Hijab interfered, she had a less conservative kind of Hijab, and it was very clear she is a working lady. She wondered in surprise why should the march be silent?!  Others were mumbling sentences like “because of the men around—our voice is weak”. Then the lady that suggested the silent march replied that we can walk behind any man and chant behind him, not to lead the chants. That is when things became more interesting. The objecting lady said that if any lady volunteered to lead the chants everyone would chant along including men! The first lady was silent and gave the look of having nothing more to say and that she kind of agrees, so did other mumbling ladies.
That day was a turning point for me.  I am an Egyptian that despises the veil and sees it as the cause and not just a manifestation of the oppression of women in my country.  That day kind of shook the stereotype image I have about veiled women in my country, I guess exactly as western media which was surprised by this staggering amount of women in Tahrir and other squares of the revolution. It does not matter your educational and cultural background , What matters is how you see yourself as a human being in this life and what you are capable of doing.
Traditional roles for women?  Never occurred to me that term throughout the first 18 days of the revolution. Consciously or unconsciously, women did not see themselves as different from men. This is the key to the puzzle. If women want equality, they must deal as equal and strive to take spaces in the public sphere as men. Women should never remain isolated  from the political context in the country. We are part of society and we remain regarded as such until we choose to isolate ourselves.

The Egyptian feminist/ women’s rights movement managed to gain much under the former regime, the unilateral divorce, significant reforms in personal status law and freedom of movement without the permission of a guardian, and others. But that was before the revolution. The Movement was reformist in nature. But now in a state of revolution that we live, the movement should not be separated from the changes that occur around. It is a must now that the movement chooses a revolutionary route.
Some women’s groups called for a one million woman march on the international women’s day March 8th to call for women’s rights after the revolution. I was an extreme opponent of the idea. I felt that we will lose ground on that day that could end all that we got from the over the previous days.

I remember quite well the demands as were written on the home page of the event (on facebook): this day serves as “a reminder of the role of women in the revolution.”  Of course among other demands like calling for an article against gender-based discrimination in the constitution. But I stopped for long at this sentence. Who needs a reminder? The whole world witnessed that the Egyptian revolution was not gendered. Women participated in everything, played all the roles as Egyptian citizens. Why go back to isolating ourselves. Why do we isolate ourselves from the public sphere, which we had long fought a lot for joining?
Note that in March the revolution was still intense, Egyptians gathered every Friday in Tahrir square  for other demands of the revolution. It is true that Mubarak stepped down but his cronies were still in power. In March, Mubarak was still having fun in his palace in Sharm Al Shiekh. We were few days before the referendum on constitutional amendments proposed by the military, which was rejected by almost all civil forces, including women’s groups. It was unfortunately passed because of Islamists mobilization.

I would have been happy if women’s groups announced their participation in the million people marches, as pressure groups, to reject constitutional amendments, or claim any of the demands of the revolution. Of course members of these groups were participating  individually, but when they decided to be presented to the public as a unified bloc was on March 8th to demand only – women’s rights. To remind the public that women participated in the revolution and now it is the time for the society to pay back! As if women participated only for some political wins. I was literally heartbroken  at the time. I felt we were betraying the souls of over 300 hundred female martyrs of the revolution.
Of course we all know what happened that day. Unfortunately, the ability of these groups to mobilize the public was very poor, because of the same old mentality of segregating ourselves. They didn’t think of approaching any emerging political parties or youth coalitions to participate with them in the women march. On that day there weren’t more than a thousand protester, including photographers and journalists. It was a grave mistake. We just can’t follow  the same approach that was going before the revolution. Calling for equality is an indisputable right, but the integration of the Egyptian feminist movements with other political and human rights groups is important. To sit at one table with all political forces to talk about Egypt in transition and  in a broader  and more comprehensive aspect than the rights of women only is very important. It is not us against everybody, but it is us with everybody, we are part of this society and we have to negotiate, give and take and show power. This is a Phase of revolutionary struggle for the rights of all Egyptians and it is still going on.

After the fall of Mubarak, there was a clear marginalization of women, started with the selection of the committee to amend the Constitution without a single woman. Constitutional amendments that came with an outrageous article that includes the criteria to run for presidency.  According to the article,  the candidate must be male, as he must not be married to a foreign “wife”- not spouse. They fixed it later – in the Constitutional Declaration – to be gender sensitive.  But even so, this reflects what is in the public collective consciousness  about women anticipated role in society and that the president can never possibly be a woman. This is what we must acknowledge then start the critical discussion about.

A similar tragedy is found in the newly issued People’s Assembly Law which stipulates that Egyptians with ONLY an Egyptian father should run for parliamentary elections. Egyptian women gained few years ago the right to pass their nationality to their sons even when married to a foreign father. Yet, the famous patriarchal mind set refuse to consider those granted nationality from their Egyptian mothers enough citizens to run for elections in their country.
YES there is marginalized. Who is taking over the transitional phase in Egypt? Who chose members if the Committee amending the Constitution? The military.

Now our enemy is one. Since the military took over power in Egypt, they do not let anyone, let it be a man or woman to participate in the decision making in the transitional phase. The first decree-law issued by the military after they took over power was the criminalization of protests and sit-ins in a serious crackdown on freedoms – the same old ways which the revolution had erupted to end.

It is certain that the transitional period was run by civil body, everything could have been different. Speaking  to civilian authority is always easier and more logic than speaking  with the military who derive their legitimacy from force and tools of war.

In the March 19th referendum, Egyptians voted on 6 articles- only to find the military, few days later, issuing a constitutional declaration of 62 articles we knew nothing about. The declaration Gives the ruling military council (SCAF) more powers than those which were granted to the president under the 1971 constitution.

They also passed a constitutional amendment to their own constitutional declaration  few days ago without bothering informing the public. Laws governing elections and political rights were issued by them without consulting anyone. Now political and civil powers are threatening to boycott the upcoming elections if the proportional list system wasn’t applied 100%.

This comes amidst a severe crackdown on freedoms that includes confiscating newspapers, summoning journalists to the military prosecutor, forcibly disbursing protests and of course the worse of all: conducting virginity tests to female revolutionaries to humiliate them.

12, 000 Egyptian civilians were prosecuted before military courts since January.
Personally, I considered it something totally immoral and against all my principles to ask the military for anything. All I want at this stage is for them to leave immediately and hand over power to civilians at the earliest opportunity.
Egypt is now full of strikes and protests by workers, doctors, engineers teachers, students, university staff and others. I am  very proud of the situation of the revolutionary struggle that continues throughout Egypt, but it saddens me that they do not demand immediate withdrawal of the military, but limited to the claims of economic, such as minimum and maximum wage, and in the best cases, demanding the exclusion of the former regime from positions of leadership after the revolution.
I spoke with a friend from the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists, who is involved with the strikes, about my concerns. He had a genius answer: Strikers in all parts of Egypt now know about the marriage between the businessmen and the military, and that the status quo cannot be changed unless the military withdrew not only from political life, but also all aspect of the economy.  All roads lead to Rome, I so discovered.

The role of the women movement in this historical moment is to join the revolutionary movement that does not calm down or sleep. There are two kinds of movements right now from my point of view:

The first is the movement that calls directly for the departure of the military and reveal violations of human rights they committed, like [no to military trials for civilians group], which is struggling to stop the military trials for civilians – and similar groups.

The second is the labor rights and strikes movement led by independent trade unions.

Rights demanded by women in Egypt at the end are political rights and not based on gender. Building  grass root support comes from the integration of Egyptian women’s movement in different sectors demanding  their rights in this historical moment. This is normal since those who strike are both men and women and those subjected to military trials are men and women.

I read a report recently that  there were 4 independent trade unions/syndicates before the revolution, but now the number reached  88 independent trade union with 250 000 members. 50% of the membership of these unions are women. This is the opportunity for the Egyptian feminist movement to support them and their just demands. The transfer of those demands to those of a political nature is a burden falls on the women’s movement and civil groups, which unfortunately left most of the revolutionary struggle for the sake of elections.

Today September 30th, is officially the date when the state of emergency should end.  It is also the last day of the transitional period identified in the constitutional declaration. Unfortunately few days ago, SCAF extended the state of emergency until June 2012- which is by the way against the constitutional declaration they themselves wrote.

In a reaction to their decision, millions are gathered in Tahrir today in what is called “Friday of taking back the revolution” or “the recovery of the revolution” – and of course it is understood recovery from whom.  Egyptians come out today to declare it explicitly to the military: It is enough. You took your chance to manage transition to fill it with chaos and violations of human rights. People who were ready to die for their glorious revolution against injustice and tyranny, will not accept being silenced or sidelined anymore.

One last thing.
Tomorrow is the birthday of a young Egyptian blogger,  Michael Nabil. Tomorrow he completes 26 year-old.

Maikel was arrested on 28 March at his home in Cairo, tried in a military court on 10 April and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment over comments he made on Facebook, and for allegedly spreading lies and rumors about the armed forces on his blog. On it, he criticizes the military’s use of force against peaceful protesters in Tahrir Square, and describes how he was detained and tortured by the Egyptian military in February.

He started his hunger strike 37 days ago. Doctors said that people on hunger strike don’t survive more than 40 days. This is the kind of crimes committed by the military against us in Egypt after a glorious revolution. Maikel is in prison merely for expressing his opinion and is going to die for it. I just wanted to say it out clear that all my support goes out to him in his suffering.
It is time for the military to back off and leave Egypt alone.  And the struggle continues.

Time To Think Ahead: Women In the Egyptian Constitution

لقراءة هذا الموضوع باللغة العربية، اضغط هنا.

The 1971 constitution is (or should I say was?!) viewing women from a pure patriarchal perspective.  Although several articles prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, etc but they remain just a theory.

Article 1 is about citizenship, but women never enjoyed full citizenship rights in Egypt, they are always treated as second rank citizens. Article 40 is also about equality before the law, yet what does equality mean here when lots of laws are discriminatory against women, including articles in the penal code on punishment of adultery and passion crimes. Furthermore, in prostitution cases, men are being held as witnesses then released, while women are being charged and prosecuted.  There is also an article in the penal code that allows judges to issue a linient sentence for those who committed honor killings, and so they are not treated as perpetrators of murder.  Also women and men are not equal when it comes to the right of divorce. Men can divorce their wives with a simple word, while women have to resort to courts.

Although article 8 has affirmed the principle of equal opportunities for all Egyptian citizens, but we find women are still subjected to discrimination. There are certain jobs they are not allowed to occupy, like judiciary and public prosecution. Women are not allowed to occupy positions in State Council.  On Monday February 15th, 2010, in State Council’s General Assembly meeting, 334 MALE judges voted against the appointment of females to judicial posts. Conservative judges’ arguments, are always related to Islam. The constitution unfortunately allows for religion to be a main factor in discrimination against women. For example article 2 of the Egyptian constitution [ Islam as being the state religion] and article 11. [The State shall guarantee coordination between woman’s duties towards her family and her work in the society, considering her equal to man in the political, social, cultural and economic spheres without detriment to the rules of Islamic jurisprudence (Sharia)]. Who decides the principles of Sharia? Those conservative judges did, and so did other sheiks. They claimed to know what exactly Islamic jurisprudence is and for them it says that women are not capable of and shouldn’t be allowed to hold certain positions. One of the prominent judges actually stated that women’s primary role is in their homes taking care of their children and husbands.  Perhaps we should be less surprised, considering that article 10 in the constitution emphasizes the traditional role of women as mothers. It brings that that the state shall guarantee the protection of motherhood and childhood! I wished to see an article that openly emphasizes that women and men are equal when it comes to labor rights and that they are both partners in the development of this country!

Women judges were "appointed" by a presidential decree in 2007
Women judges were “appointed” by a presidential decree in 2007

Even ordinary Egyptians who keep listening to this discriminative discourse all the way, on the radio and TV, in mosques, in schools and universities, started to believe that Islam limits the participation of women in certain positions! Even if this is true, even if Islam is discriminatory against women, this shouldn’t be allowed in a state that believes in citizenship, according to article 1 in its constitution!  The constitution in its current form is disastrous and if this is not avoided in the new constitution, we will still be stuck in reverse.

Add to that article 62, which allows having quota for women in the parliament. Quota has done nothing to women but segregation! Under the former regime, – I am not sure if I should call it former already!!- this quota was used to guarantee a bigger representation for the NDP, the ruling party,  in the parliament! All quota MPs after the 2010 elections were NDP members! The quota law was also very weird. It is a first in history ( correct me if I am wrong) to formulate a quota law that adds new seats to the parliament ordinary seats. The Egyptian parliament has 444 seats for 222 constituencies, in addition to other 10 appointed MPs. The quota law didn’t define women’s seats from those 444 seats, it added whole new 60 seats. The total number of MPs turned out to be 504 + 10 appointed MPs. If the main reason to have quota is for people to know and trust women leadership and their ‘ability’ to represent them in the parliament (the thing I think doesn’t need to be proved!!), then why weren’t the seats taken from the original 444 seats?  It gives the impression that women are even more segregated and require a special treatment to the extent of adding new seats, because they can’t take part in the parliament with its ordinary formation.

Egyptian people's assembly
Egyptian peoples assembly

Even in a democratic society, quota reinforces gender roles! There is no such thing as gender differences, but quota is reinforcing this. I know CEDAW is in favor of quota, but I think we should tackle the problem of under-representation of women in our country with a different approach. If you are not different, don’t go and ask for a law that shows you are different and need a special treatment! Actually this law makes the society angry with the whole women’s rights movement. Call for equality by taking to streets and having a voice! By building grass root women leaders, not by imposing it on society by law!

The newly passed constitutional amendments

Women lining up to vote in the referendum over the constitutional amendments 2011
Women lining up to vote in the referendum over the constitutional amendments 2011

The process of amending the constitution generally was wrong. We made a revolution. Revolutions make constitutions fall along with all the regime! Maybe the problem is that the regime didn’t fully fall. What happened is a big joke. Before the referendum, we took to streets and distributed fliers and talked with people not only to convince them that the amendments are discriminative and violate the principle of citizenship rights and equality between all Egyptians, but also to say that the whole referendum thing is not correct. As the Higher Council for Armed Forces, I don’t have to go and ask the people if they still want the constitution from which they suffered for the past 40 years!

The amendments had some odd criteria for presidency candidates, including that candidates shouldn’t be married to foreigners. English language is a bless, unless you add the words male/female to the sentence, you’ll never know whether it is a male or a female one is talking about. It is a gender-sensitive language by default, where this is not the case in Arabic. The formulation of the amended article suggests that only a male can run for president in Egypt, because he shouldn’t be married to a “foreign wife”. Article 75 in the 1971 constitution, was way better before amendment, at least it used a gender-neutral language!

Unfortunately the amendments passed, which is dangerous to the revolution as a whole, not to certain groups who were discriminated against like women and Egyptians married to foreigners.
The committee drafting the amendments didn’t have one woman as a member. I personally think that the exclusion of women from the so-called constitutional and legal experts’ elite circle, the ones who the state always refer to for drafting new legislations, was for long the main reason for discriminative legislations. The honorable committee members didn’t even think that an Egyptian woman can run for president! They didn’t offer an explanation or an excuse for that! I can imagine what they were to say if any of them had the courtesy to justify it.  I can picture them saying that the article with its current formulation was meant to be general and that the default in Arabic language is the male pronoun (which I think is nonsense). Maybe practically speaking, this won’t affect women on the short run, because there might not be a woman candidate on the scene that can run for president for the upcoming elections. But on the long run, it affects the whole view to women as human beings with full citizenship. There will be a new constitution shortly after the upcoming parliamentary elections. Following that, a lot of work on law reform needs to be done. If the new constitution and the law reform processes didn’t take place on the basis of equality between men and women, it will be a huge problem. We are building our new state and we don’t want it to end up being another Iran.

Building a new state while committing the same mistakes is not doing any good for the society. What we need to have as a society- and not just the women ’s rights movement- is to have a clear alternative and a clear vision of what the women’s position in the new state will be, starting from the constitution: women as mothers and wives or women as citizens in this country. It is our historical opportunity and we shouldn’t waste it! Egyptian women and men made the January revolution, with no difference whatsoever in the roles they played.  Being treated as equal in all aspects of life in the new Egypt is not negotiable.

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