Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood and Women

Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood and Women

 CAIRO: A recent spat of press reports detailing Egypt’s powerful opposition Muslim Brotherhood group’s row over the role of women has left the Islamic group under pressure from the country’s liberal left and acitivists. Despite the report that suggested the group was concerned over Parliament’s decision to increase the number of women in legislation, a number of leaders have spoken to Bikya Masr to clarify their group’s position.

Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a leading reformist member, says that a lot of the reporting is based on misinformation. “We are one of only two democratic institutions in the country, Tagama’a being the other, and for people to report hearsay is not a menas to get a good grasp of what is going on,” he argues.

According to Aboul Fotouh, the Brotherhood is not opposed to having women in government, but that it must come after the establishment and creation of a new Egyptian constitution.

In Parliament, much of the controversy surrounding the Brotherhood’s stance toward women was the result of MP Ragab Abou Zeid, who said the law discriminates between men and women, while “Islam has never differentiated between men and women. On the contrary, Islam has many times described woman as equal to men in rights.”

“We do not disagree with the right for women to fully participate in political and legislative life, but this has to happen without violating the constitution,” he said.

Abou Zaid argues that the new law violates articles 5 and 83 of the Egyptian constitution, which stipulate all Egyptians are equal in opportunities and outlaws gender-based discrimination.

Akin to the United States’ Affirmative Action law, the new proposal suggests that by allowing women greater opportunities via a quota, it will “enable women the mobility they deserve to be a part of society,” a journalist covering Parliament told Bikya Masr.

At the same time, the Brotherhood hopes that the formation of a new constitution will alleviate these issues.

“We want a new constitution,” Aboul Fotouh begins, “and one that establishes how the country and governance will work. The Brotherhood platform of citizenship does not discriminate against Muslims, Copts, male or female from holding political office”, he says in reference to the controversial party platform that has left many observers worried over the group’s thinking toward women and minorities.

Deputy Mohamed Habib says that it is still too early to make decisions on women’s issues because the group is currently in discussion over how to act. He argues that “the press should not attack us, when the whole country is not behind this. We need time to discuss and follow all possibilities.”

He may be right.

“If we, at any time, were given the chance to nominate a candidate, these are the criteria and it is up to any group to nominate who they want. As for others, if they want to nominate a Hindu, a Baha’i or a Communist, it is up to them,” Aboul Fotouh adds.

But, in Egypt, where 90 percent of the population is Muslim, the likelihood of a minority candidate coming to the forefront of politics is nearly unthinkable.

For now, however,the Brotherhood is walking the line of popularism in the hopes of gaining support ahead of the 2010 Parliamentary elections.