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Sister doing it for herself
Sister doing it for herself
Among the 150 candidates the Muslim Brotherhood is fielding in the forthcoming parliamentary elections, one stands out. Makarem Al Deiri, a 55-year-old professor of Arabic literature at Al Azhar University, is running in the affluent Cairo district of Nasr City. Although the Brotherhood has a solid presence there, Al Deiri is unusual: she is a Muslim sister.
Saturday, November 5,2005 00:00
by Victoria Hazou

Sister doing it for herself
The Muslim Brotherhood’s lone female candidate is no feminist
By Ahmed Aboul-Wafa & Issandr El Amrani

Victoria Hazou
 
Among the 150 candidates the Muslim Brotherhood is fielding in the forthcoming parliamentary elections, one stands out. Makarem Al Deiri, a 55-year-old professor of Arabic literature at Al Azhar University, is running in the affluent Cairo district of Nasr City. Although the Brotherhood has a solid presence there, Al Deiri is unusual: she is a Muslim sister.

This is not the first time that the august Islamist organization has fielded a female candidate for parliament. In 2000, Jihan Al Halafawi competed in Alexandria’s Al Raml district and bested her ruling party rival, prompting the authorities to cancel the results. When a by-election finally took place, it was amid massive security interference and Al Halafawy’s supporters were largely prevented from voting.

Like Al Halafawy—who ran as a stand-in for her husband, Ibrahim Al Zaafarani, barred from running because he had recently served a prison sentence for his membership in the Brotherhood—Al Deiri is the wife of a prominent Muslim Brother. Al Deiri’s late husband, Ibrahim Sharaf, was a leader of the group who was imprisoned between 1965 and 1974 at the height of the Nasserist crackdown against Islamists. “He taught me everything,” Al Deiri says of Sharaf.

The local and international media have jumped on Al Deiri’s candidacy as an electoral curiosity—and put a spotlight on the Brotherhood’s changing stance on the role of women in public life. The main role of women, she told Agence France Presse on 20 October, “is to be good mothers who look after their children. We oppose battling against men’s superiority to women.”

That may be in line with former Supreme Guide Omar Al Tilmissany’s conviction that a “woman who believes that she is equal to a man is a woman who has lost her femininity, virtue and dignity.” It is only since 1994 that the Muslim Brotherhood has publicly decreed that women can run for public office, though they still believe women should be barred from the presidency.

Yet, in elections in which women candidates of all political persuasions are all too rare, Al Deiri stands out as a woman swimming against the current. Cairo interviewed the mother of six and grandmother of five at her campaign headquarters in Nasr City.


Cairo: What’s your primary hope for these elections?

Al Deiri: I just hope that security forces keep away from them. It would also be nice if it were the first election in Egypt without fraud. Oh, and one more thing: that people ages 18-26 get their voting cards.

Cairo: What would be your priority if you won?

Al Deiri: Education will always be my main interest. We want educational reform on an Islamic basis. The government wants teaching to be a rote, mechanistic job, not to be carried out by people with their own ideas and convictions.

Cairo: You have said that this election will be a battle. Who are your enemies?

Al Deiri: A lot of people may think that I’m referring to the NDP here. But my real enemy is fraud: buying the votes of poor people. I’d also like to see an end to the unfair measures and obstacles that hamper Islamist candidates today.

Cairo: Your group used to use the phrase “Islamic current” instead of “Muslim Brotherhood” to describe its candidates on campaign posters. Why has this now changed?

Al Deiri: We are proud of being an “Islamic current” and we are proud of being “Muslim Brotherhood.” We tried to maintain good relations with the regime, and were rewarded by having our people locked away. So there doesn’t seem to be much point in using any name other than “Muslim Brotherhood.”

Cairo: Why do you always use the slogan Al Islam Huwa Al Hal (Islam is the Solution)?

Al Deiri: As a large and diverse group of people, we are interested in reform in all fields. We have an Islamic ideology, so naturally we base our calls for reform on this ideology. There are plenty of people calling for the same reforms with a Western ideology—Mr. Bush is one of them. So, we’re just sticking to our convictions. Every ideology has a point of reference, and we have ours: Islam. So for us, Islam is the only solution.

Cairo: What role do you see for women in the Muslim Brotherhood?

Al Deiri: Broadly speaking, Islam grants women an important position, and the same is true for this organization. This has been the case for a long time. One example would be what Hajja Zeinab Al Ghazali did in 1940s as head of the Muslim Women’s Assembly.

Cairo: But then why do we see so few female leaders in the Brotherhood?

Al Deiri: Women in the organization dedicate themselves mostly to social work, like reform, missionary and pedagogical work. Harassment from state security has been the main reason they haven’t been able to do these sorts of things in the public eye. One really positive experience was in 2000, when the organization nominated Jihan Al Halafawy for the parliamentary elections in Alexandria. True, it was a painful experience because of fraud and other sorts of harassment, but it was a great example for aspiring women.

Cairo: Yet there is only one female candidate on the Muslim Brotherhood ticket in the upcoming parliamentary elections—namely you.

Al Deiri: Actually there were quite a few women qualified to run, but family circumstance prevented them from doing so.

Cairo: You have said before that you do not support the absolute equality of men and women. Could you explain?

Al Deiri: That’s right, I’m definitely not for absolute equality. I am for equilibrium. We ask for equilibrium as a simple result of biological variations. The wife gets pregnant and delivers babies, so we can’t very well ask her to go out and provide for her family in the same way a man would. Furthermore, if the wife is adamant about having her own job and work, this would cause instability in the Muslim household. That doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t have their own money. Islam grants to women a private financial account, and husbands have no right to draw from it unless their wives agree.

Cairo: Are you afraid of what will happen during the elections?

Al Deiri: Only of fraud and vote-buying—it happens a lot around here. But we trust God that He will bring about what is good for us.

Copyright © 2005 Cairo Magazine


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