Be it during the January 25 Revolution, or right in the heart of November’s face-off between protesters and the police, women stood by men shoulder-to-shoulder in Tahrir, chanting at the top of their lungs, fighting with zeal, helping on the frontline, and volunteering in field hospitals.
In late November, and during the first round of voting for the country’s first free and comprehensive parliamentary elections post-Mubarak, women flocked to the voting ballots, set up across nine provinces. Photos of huge numbers of women from all walks of life standing in queue for hours to cast their votes circulated all over the web and news outlets and attesting to that.
Yet, today, and despite their relentless efforts to carve a place for themselves and become active players during the nation’s development, they’re often pushed to the sidelines. The reality is that women are voting for parliament, and running for the assembly, but so far, losing -- amid the fear of many that their role may be marginalized, yet again, in the political sphere.
Magy Mahrous, who has worked for 16 years in social development across the region, was contesting in the 9th electoral district. She lost to high-profile journalist Moustafa Bakry. Mahrous and believes that the reluctance of the populace to vote for women is part of an “international trend;” in other words, a universal problem that women face, and not just in Egypt.
She adds it has a lot to do with the society.
“People will always doubt your abilities and capabilities. It’s very annoying, particularly with those who are supposedly more liberal,” says Mahrous.
Nevertheless, Omaima Kamel, Freedom and Justice Party’s (FJP) candidate who won the first female seat in the fourth electoral district, maintains that the law is giving women their full rights to participate in the political arena.
FJP the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, one of the oldest and largest Islamic groups in Egypt, with rising popularity among the grassroots.
But even Kamel agrees with Mahrous that the problem lies in the society. “Having a minimal number of women in this parliament is a reality we will face,” she adds with a tone of disappointment.
“This parliament is very different, because its purpose is to help Egypt’s transition to the right path of democracy,” she explains, highlighting the fact that people are focusing on the overall situation of the country rather than women and their rights.
In 2009, the lower house of parliament passed a law that specifies a quota of a minimum of 64 seats to women. In May the law was scrapped by the Supreme Council of Security Forces (SCAF).
An official military source subsequently announced, “our society calls for equality between men and women.
Therefore, we cannot allocate a quota for women alone … the existence of such a quota might also provide parliament membership for feminist elements that aren’t suitable for the task. Hence, the military council is seeking to achieve a parliament that represents the people’s actual will.”
Currently, the parliamentary law only obliges parties to have one female candidate on their proportional lists. But, “hardly any woman is on top of a list or even comes second,” comments Mahrous.
And the current political climate -- with a sweeping win by Islamist candidates in the first round of elections for parliament-- is not easing women’s fears. Some even speculate that a possible Islamist takeover might end the fight for the women’s rights movement, ignited in the early 1980s, altogether.
As the Salafi Nour Party and the Muslim Brotherhood continue to clinch seats, concerns about the coming of a strict Islamic rule have occupied the nation, fueling real anxiety on the future of women’s freedom.
Questions range from whether or not the Islamist policy makers will finally and forcefully impose dress codes, like the headscarf or the full veil (niqab), or prohibit women from working, to their position on previously reformed laws which protect women’s rights.
Rania Hamaida, a marketing consultant, told Egypt Today that “everyday we’re hearing that they will make us wear the veil, but then parties deny it. It’s confusing. It’s scary. But there is no way that I will accept anyone forcing me to wear something against my will.”
Party activist and Economic Development Specialist Nora Soliman, says she fears for family laws that give women unprecedented rights in 2006.
She is worried about “the annulment of the 2006 family law giving women more rights to divorce, custody and alimony,” adding, “the Muslim Brotherhood were strongly opposed to the passing of the law in 2006 and have hinted they would take another look at it.”
That said, Soliman believes the Muslim Brotherhood to be “too smart” to enforce veil or niqab anytime soon. “I Don’t think they’ll go there for a while,” she says.
Kamel, the FJP winner, says women shouldn’t be concerned, insisting that her party will vouch for a civil government, and denies any allegations of intentions to have a religious one. She also asserts that, “any reforms on laws will be carefully consulted with experts on society, Sharia and law.”
Despite party statements to the contrary, the future of women's rights in Egypt remains questionable.