Liberal Women Fear for Their ’Freedom’ Under Brotherhood

Liberal Women Fear for Their ’Freedom’ Under Brotherhood

The spectacular performance of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s legislative polls has heightened fears of a clampdown on women’s freedoms should the Islamist group ever come to power.

“I am against all their policies. Not only the ones related to women,” said liberal writer Nawal Saadawi.

“Their [current] political stance of openness is a mere tactic to reach power,” the feminist activist said, referring to the group’s promise not to force women to wear the veil.

But the radical leftist said that women in Egypt are also victims of the Western consumerist culture “promoted by the United States”.

“Egyptian women are lost between the Americanized consumerist culture of stripping off, and the Islamists’ call to wear the veil,” she said.

The officially banned but tolerated Muslim Brotherhood has already secured 76 of parliament’s 454 seats after two phases, five times its tally of 15 in the outgoing chamber.

The Islamist movement has no chance of coming to power in these elections but it has demonstrated its grass-roots support and the success rate of its candidates suggests that it could win a majority in the future.

Novelist and university professor Sahar Al Moji also dreaded a scenario where “all freedoms will be curbed” if the Brotherhood came to power.

“The Brothers’ movement was the origin of all other radical Islamist groups. If they reach power they would be as radical as other extremists,” she said, in reference to groups blamed for a wave of bloody attacks in Egypt in the 1990s.

But Moji consoles herself by claiming that the Brothers do not represent the masses, “as only 25 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots”.

“Thirty-three of 35 girls in a class I teach at university are veiled. But they are not all from the Brothers. Egyptians have their own way of being religious,” she added.

In ultraconservative Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, women have to cover from head to toe in a loose black robe, but Egyptian veils come in all shapes and colors.

Women in conservative Islamist families can often be seen wearing the niqab face cover but they mingle in the streets with young women combining colorful headscarves with skimpy tops and low-waist jeans.

A video clip shown regularly on Arabic music channels features one such ’modernly’ veiled young woman swaying her body as she co-stars with an Egyptian male singer.

The shooting took place on a Cairo bridge over the Nile River, where headscarved teenage girls stroll hand-in-hand with men of their age.

The Muslim Brotherhood does not accept this kind of veil as very Islamic.

The women’s page on the movement’s Website says that “a Muslim woman should hide all her body – except for the face and hands – with a cover that is not transparent, does not reveal the shape and does not resemble male outfits”.

But in the spotlight of their electoral success, the Islamist movement has been sending out conciliatory messages on religion and insisting that it would never force women to cover up.

“It is not permissible for any authority to impose on people what they dislike … We rely on persuasion and not coercion” to promote the veil, spokesman Issam Al Aryan said.

Boasting that veiled women represent some 70 percent of Muslim females in Egypt, Aryan said that it “never occurred” to his movement to force the veil on women.

“Why should we, when we have succeeded during the past 20 years through persuasion” to quadruple the number of veiled women, he said.

Aryan pointed out also that a feared policy of segregation between sexes would be virtually “impossible” in Egypt, although he added that “there are religious restraints for the relations between the two sexes”.

But many liberal women in Egypt argue that the Brothers are just telling the public what it wants to hear.

“I am happy to see them represented in parliament. Their supporters will [now] know that they are liars who exploit religion,” said Rania Shaheen, a 28-year-old lawyer and human rights activist.

“But if they reach power it would be a catastrophe for both men and women.”