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Egypt Muslim Sisters rise with conservative vision

Associated Press Modified: November 10, 2012 at 1:01 am •  Published: November 10, 2012
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Omaima Kamel, perhaps the most powerful of the Brotherhood women, defended the clause. Kamel is a member of Morsi's advisory team and sits on the constitutional panel.

In a recent interview on state TV, she said that without the phrasing, certain rights that Shariah gives to men and not to women could be overturned — such as men's right to marry up to four women or inheritance laws that give a greater to share to men than women. Such polygamy and inheritance laws existed during the Mubarak era and in most Muslim countries.

Kamel, a 51-year-old doctor, dismissed fears that hardliners would use the clause to pass harsh restrictions on women, saying only rulings of Shariah that are "firmly established, with no controversy around them," like polygamy and inheritance, could be applied.

The clause was also needed to ensure Egypt is not beholden to international women's rights accords that she said would impose "complete equality" and "strip us of our character as a people who are religious and respect Islam."

"Just like people on the left fear that someone on the right will one day say women have to stay in the home, there are people on the right — the conservatives and Islamists — who fear that one day Egypt will be forced to carry out what's in international agreements, like complete equality."

Other issues have stirred up trouble for the Brotherhood's women, particularly the issue of female genital mutilation, which is known as "circumcision" in Egypt and is widespread despite a 2008 law banning it. Both el-Garf and Kamel have been quoted in the Egyptian media as speaking of allowing the practice to a degree, but each later denied making the comments. Now they both are circumspect in talking about it.

"We have problems in education, health care, and security," she said. "These issues (of FGM) do not bother anyone, we have bigger issues," el-Garf told The AP, adding, "I respect all laws," in reference to the ban. Kamel called FGM a "bad practice" that should be addressed through awareness campaigns.

Like other female Brotherhood politicians, Kamel says she is determined to see more women in positions of authority.

The Brotherhood is "trying to put the cornerstones for the right path toward democracy" within its political party, including bringing more women into the leadership, she told The AP. But she added that this will take "a few years" because there are currently few women with the political experience to compete for top positions in the party.

Liberals say the Brotherhood women are just a token cover for an agenda they consider deeply opposed to women's rights.

Having Brotherhood women in authority "is even more dangerous than not (having them), given their ideology," said Hoda Badran, a veteran women's rights activist and chair of the Egyptian Feminist Union.

Bahy Eddin Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, said the Brotherhood's female members "don't believe in the concept of basic women's rights ... We don't have illusions about how much progress we can make with them."

Sally Zohney, a founding member of the local women's rights group Baheya Ya Masr, said the constitution is a "lost cause" given the Brotherhood's ability to rally public support. The liberal side, she said, has to work to advocate an alternative vision among Egyptians.

"We have to start reaching the public, and fast," she said.