Will women make it into Egypt's upcoming parliament?
Yasmine Fathi, Thursday 20 Oct 2011
Though each proportional list in the upcoming parliamentary elections must contain one woman, some prominent women political figures fear that women will be marginalised in the poll

Egyptian women stood side by side with Egyptian men in Tahrir Square during the 18 days uprising that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak. But will they also sit side by side with the men in Egypt’s first post-Mubarak parliament, or are they going to be left behind?

Since the government announced parliamentary elections will be held 28 November, Egypt’s political parties, both old and new, have begun scrambling together their candidate lists, with the hope that they may win seats in the parliament that for years has been dominated by the former ruling National Democratic Party. While some have decided to run on their own, other political parties have joined alliances and blocs in order to run for parliament with joint candidate lists, to increase their chances of winning.

Recent changes to Egypt’s electoral law stipulated that two thirds of parliament will be elected through a proportional list system and one third through single ticket voting. The proportional list system will be applied in 46 constituencies across the country and each list will have eight candidates with the first ones having better chances of winning than ones who come at the end of the list. Even though the law scrapped the Mubarak era women’s quota, which allocated 64 seats for women, the new law said that each proportional list must have at least one woman.

It seems, however, that all is not well and female candidates are starting to feel left out. Political activist Gameela Ismael announced Wednesday that she will withdraw from the Democratic Alliance, which is led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Juistic Party (FJP). The Alliance has 13 political parties, including Ismael’s Ghad El-Thawra Party, and is expected to run for next month’s elections with a unified candidate list. However, Ismael said she was shocked when she was informed three days ago that her name comes third and not first on the list for the downtown Cairo seat. She blamed this on the chauvinism of the FJP, which she says does not want women to win seats in the first post-Mubarak parliament.

Ismael said that she decided to withdraw to show her solidarity with other candidates who were looked over and not given first place on the list of candidates. The long time activist fumed yesterday to TV journalist Lamis El-Hadidy that women stood side by side with men during the Egyptian revolution and even participated in the Battle of the Camel, when government thugs entered Tahrir Square 2 February. How then, asked Ismael, can they be marginalised in this way, adding that in some political parties outside of the Alliance, women were either put at the end of the list or, sometimes, completely disregarded.

However, FJP senior member Saad El-Katatny said before Gamila's split that the FJP had no problem whatsoever in fielding women candidates. In fact, he added, it’s the other parties in the Alliance who did not field women and have left the burden on them to come up with a female candidate for every list.

Things don’t look much brighter for women in the rest of the country’s political forces. Two days ago, the Salafist Nour Party held a press conference entitled “The Role of women,” in which one of the speakers said that fielding women candidates for parliament is “evil,” and that the party will only field candidates because they are “forced” to by law.

“No nation will succeed if it is ruled by women,” added Yasser Burhamy, one of the Salafist leaders at the conference.

El-Nour Party was a member of the Alliance but defected along with Islamist parties to protest their shares on the Alliance’s joint electoral lists. The Islamist parties — which includes El-Asalaa and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya’s El-Benaa Wa El-Tanmiya — are now part of a yet unnamed Islamist electoral coalition and hope to go head to head against the Muslim Brotherhood in next month’s elections.

Nadar Bakkar, spokesperson of El-Nour Party and a member of its High Committee, told Ahram Online that the party will field 95 per cent of the new Islamic alliance’s women’s candidates.

“We will field about 70 female candidates for the elections,” Bakar said. “However, we are still not sure how they will be placed in the list because it will be based on their competence and achievements. But among the female candidates, we have at least 20 university professors who will be placed high on our lists.”

Bakar, however, would not comment if any of the women will get first or second place on the lists.

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party, a member of the Egyptian Bloc, which includes 16 liberal parties, will field 24 women, according to member Hisham Imbabi. One of the women will be given second place in the Red Sea constituency.

It is not yet clear if the party will field any women in first place, but Imbabi said that negotiations are still underway. The rest of the parties in the Bloc will field candidates for the rest of the quota.

As for the liberal Wafd Party, which also recently pulled out of the Democratic Alliance, at least two women will be fielded in first place, including Margaret Azer who will run for Nasr City and Magda El-Nawashi who will run for Ismalia.

“We are still not sure if more women will be put in first place, but we have plenty of women, in various positions,” Azer said. “Things may change in the coming few days.”

The candidacy registration period ends 22 October and most political parties are still in negotiations on who they will field for the upcoming elections. Therefore, it may still be premature to assess how large a role Egyptian women will play in Egypt’s upcoming parliament. But according to Ismael, Egyptian women have every right to be part of the upcoming parliament.

“Us women played an important role in the revolution, so it doesn’t make sense that they put us at the end of the candidate lists, because this shows a form of discrimination that we reject,” Ismael said.