Gameela Ismail: Contesting downtown

Salma Shukrallah, Friday 26 Nov 2010

Gameela Ismail, prominent political activist and ex-wife of 2005 presidential candidate Ayman Nour, is contesting the Cairo down seat of Kasr El-Nil

Gamila Ismail
Gamila Ismail

Under the slogan "bread and dignity," Gameela Ismail, the ex-wife of Al-Ghad Party leader and veteran member of parliament Ayman Nour, is contesting a parliamentary seat for the first time, in the down town Cairo district of Kasr El-Nil, the scene of the majority of pro-democracy demonstrations, of which Ismail, is a virtually constant presence.

A passionate and widely respected civil and women’s rights activist, Ismail spent the best part of the past five years campaigning for the release of her husband, whose presidential bid in 2005 earned him, besides the over 600,000 votes he received in the election, a five year prison term.  

Nour was released “for health reasons” in February of last year. It was rumoured that US President Barak Obama, who had just assumed office, had made Nour’s release a condition for his visit to Cairo in June of that year. Gameela and Nour separated soon after his  release.

A former Egyptian TV broadcaster, Ismael has been a virtually constant presence in the pro-democracy and anti-corruption street activism that been such a pronounced feature of Egyptian political life during the past five years.

Although Ismail initially sided with the call to boycott the elections, she changed her mind when the majority of political parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Wafd, decided to take part. To her mind, a boycott by a non-partisan political figure, running as an independent would have been an exercise in futility.

According to Ismail, her election campaign aims to expose the corruption of the current government. In several interviews, she stated that she believes that both the opposition parties and the ruling party play no important role in parliament and that her role would be to uncover the sleaze prevalent in the country’s political establishment.

Over the last five years Ismail has engaged in numerous political activities. She is now a member of the National Assembly for Change (NAC), founder of Egyptian Women for Change, and an influential member of El-Ghad Party’s higher committee.

What renown Ismael has gained as a political activist, she has lost as a once popular TV presenter. According to Ismael, she has been banned from Egypt’s state television, as well as “black-balled” in the privately-owned satellite networks operating in the country.

Ismail has also been the founders of Egyptian Women for Change, a largely middle to upper middle class group of women working to promote the role of women in democratic reform.

Ismail has come out against the new amendment to electoral law introducing a women’s quota by reserving a percentage of parliamentary seats to women. Such a measure, she argues, promotes discriminatory attitudes in the society, rather than women’s equality. It is also designed, according to her, to increase the ruling party’s seats in the House. As such, the seat she is competing for in Kasr El-Nil is not a women-quota seat.

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