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Profile: Bothaina Kamel

Naira Antoun , Thursday 5 Apr 2012
Bothaina Kamel
Egyptian first female presidential hopeful Bothaina Kamel (Photo: AP)
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A well-known media broadcaster and radical activist and feminist who stood up to pro-Mubarak figures in the state-owned Radio and TV  Union, Bothaina Kamel is the only woman to run in Egypt's presidential elections.

Born in 1962 in Cairo, she graduated from the faculty of commerce at Ain Shams University.

Kamel is currently married to reform-minded judge Ashraf El-Baroudi, vice-president of Egypt’s Court of Appeal, and has children from a previous marriage.

Before the revolution

Kamel's radio programme Itirafat Layliyya (Nightly Confessions) was her first step towards fame. The programme aired on Egyptian Radio from 1992 until 1998 when it was banned upon the request of the Religion Programmes Committee.

Nightly Confessions aired the phone calls of listeners who shared their personal stories, raising many controversial social issues, from sexual abuse to premarital sex. The programme was accused by her superiors of being socially and religiously inappropriate and of tainting Egypt's image abroad. Kamel said that the banning of her popular programme made her realise that Islamic fundamentalism is propagated by the state. Egyptian director Yousry Nassrallah's 2008 film Hadiqat El-Asmak (Aquarium) was based on Kamel's character and programme. 

Kamel broadcast the programme Argouk Ifhamny (Please Understand Me) on the Saudi-owned satellite station Orbit between 2000 and 2011. Similar to her previous radio programme, she used Please Understand Me as a means to discuss personal and social problems.

Kamel says that her door to political activism was the violence she witnessed against women by the NDP (National Democratic Party), when tens of women activists were severely beaten and sexually assaulted by security personnel at an anti-Mubarak rally in 2005.

She became very active in Shayfeencom (We See You), a women's group that worked on monitoring rigging and fraud practices in the 2005 elections. Kamel also got involved in pro-democracy movement Kefaya, opposing the accession to power of Hosni Mubarak's son, Gamal.

She is also active in Egyptians Against Corruption, a group that monitors financial corruption in Egypt and that won a legal battle against appropriating farmers' lands for business purposes in Maris, Luxor.

A founding member of Egyptian Women for Change, established in 2010 to promote political, economic and social change, Kamel believes that women should be part of all political movements.

The revolution and beyond

Kamel demonstrated throughout the 18 days of mass protest that led to the ouster of Mubarak. Following Mubarak's fall, she returned to work at Egyptian state television, but accused her managers of marginalising her and interfering in her work.

Throughout the year she has taken part in protests, during which time she has been beaten up and sexually assaulted, and has been questioned three times by military authorities.

Kamel has openly criticised the ruling military council as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, asserting that they are undermining the revolution. Accused of slandering the military, she asserts it is the right of every citizen to criticise the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

In April of last year, Kamel announced that she would run for president.

With her slogan “Egypt is my agenda,” Kamel plans to run as an independent, and remains unaffiliated to any party. Though observers may be fixated on the fact that she is a woman, Kamel has made it clear that she is not running to represent women, but all oppressed and disenfranchised groups in society, from Upper Egyptians to Copts, from the poor to the disabled. Central planks of her campaign are fighting corruption and tackling poverty.

Kamel draws upon her experience on radio and television engaging people from diverse social backgrounds for her campaign. She has been touring Egypt over the past year talking with people at small rallies in towns and villages.

She asserts that Egypt needs a political revolution, and a social one.

In December 2011, Kamel declined the “International Women of Courage Award” for which she was nominated by the the US Department of State. She said that to accept an award from the state that arms the military with the weapons it uses against revolutionaries was to betray the revolution.

Winning cards
* Kamel's well-known positions as an ardent supporter of the revolution and a principled critic of Mubarak and the ruling military council appeals to many pro-revolution voters. 

Odds against
* Many voters would not vote for a woman to take up the highest office, even if she were the best candidate.
* Pro-revolution voters may vote for leftist candidates Abul-Ezz El-Hariri or Khaled Ali, Nasserist contender Hamdeen Sabbahi, or liberal Islamist candidate Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh.
* Kamel currently faces an uphill battle in her attempt to collect the 30,000 citizens’ signatures needed to nominate herself for president.

 

To view profiles of other major candidates in the 2012 presidential elections, click here

 

 

 

 

 

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