Brotherhood sister outlines women's role in Islamist group

Yasmine Saleh
6 Min Read

CAIRO: With the newly approved law setting a women’s quota of 64 seats in the People’s Assembly for the next two PA sessions, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), Egypt’s biggest opposition bloc, is yet to announce its plans for these new seats.

Of the 454 seats in the current parliamentary session, the Brotherhood has 88. During the parliamentary elections in 2005, the group fielded 150 candidates, one of which was a woman. With the new law adding 32 constituencies – two seats each – that would only accept applications from women, it’s not clear whether the group would field a number of women candidates to maintain its hold on fifth of the People’s Assembly seats.

Even though the ruling National Democratic Party only fields a limited number of women candidates in such elections – four last elections, all of which had won – many critics saw the new law as a government attempt to maintain majority rule in the parliament.

Leading female Muslim Brotherhood member, Jihan Al-Halafawy, was a nominee during the 2000 legislative elections. Even though she had initially won in Al Raml constituency in Alexandria, the results were revoked two years later when a court order ruled against her and in favor of her NDP adversary.

According to a report by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights on Al-Halafawy’s case, the verdict indicated the “constant pressure from security on the election committees.

Assessing her experience with the elections, Al-Halafawy told Daily News Egypt that she won with a huge margin over the NDP candidate but that the result was reversed as a result of government pressure.

However, Al-Halafawy, who manages the Center of Media, Culture and Development in Alexandria’s Al Raml district, a private cultural center, is against the idea of having a quota for women in the PA.

“Women should fight the elections battle on their own, Al-Halafawy said.

“The new women’s quota law is just a phase, but should not stay forever, she added.

Al-Halafawy’s take on the new law is in line with the reaction of the National Council for Women, whose secretary general, Farkhonda Hassan, announced after the law was approved.

Al-Halafawy was the only female candidate nominee on behalf of the MB in 2000. She ran instead of her husband, Ibrahim Al Zaafarani, who was denied participation because he had served a jail term for his affiliation with the banned-but-tolerated Islamist group.

She believes that government’s fears of the Brotherhood’s female candidates are part of its general fear of the impact of the group as a whole.

“The government is afraid of the Brotherhood; it’s afraid of its honest ideology and powerful impact on Egyptian society, their powerful presence on the Egyptian street and their strong societal role, Al-Halafawy said.

Regarding the controversy over the Brotherhood’s stance on the rights and freedoms of women, Al-Halafawy said that the MB highly appreciates and respects women.

“The group places women in the right position and follows the Islamic school of thought that highly praises women, Al-Halafawy said.

In the 2005 PA elections, the MB fielded Makarem Al-Deiri, a 55-year-old professor of Arabic literature at Al-Azhar University, who lost against NDP candidate Moustafa Al-Salab for the Nasr City constituency.

Al-Deiri, who was unavailable for an interview because she is out of the country, was described as “outstanding among the 150 candidates that the MB had backed in the 2005 elections, according to Brotherhood sources.

Al-Deiri is also the widow of late prominent MB member Ibrahim Sharaf, who was a political detainee in the mid-1970s.

According to Al-Halafawy, there are strong female members capable of engaging in political life.

Kawthar Abdel Fattah, chair of the MB’s Women Initiative to Aid Palestine, said in an editorial sent to Daily News Egypt via email titled “What the Brotherhood Taught Me, that she will continue her struggle against corruption regardless of the recent detainment of deputy leaders and members of the group.

“This is what the Brotherhood taught us. They taught us to love this country and do whatever it takes to serve it, because serving our country is a sacred duty and an obligation.

“The Brotherhood taught me the concept of nationalism, Abdel Fattah added.

She said that she was pressured by some authorities when news of her intention to run in the coming parliamentary elections was leaked, even though she has not confirmed it yet.

MB deputy leader Mohamed Habib, said that it is too early to name “candidates who will run for the coming elections in 2010.

It is still unclear whether the MB will indeed be fielding any female candidates.

The MB’s head office told Daily News Egypt that there are no registered female members eligible for PA representation, adding that women affiliated with the group work mainly in charity and community service.

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