Egypt's New Feminism

Women of Egypt

Women and women's organizations played a pivotal role in the 2011 overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Despite their contributions, their legal and social status remains unsteady. The idea of the woman activist is not new – women have been championing national causes since the 1920s. However, as was the case in the past, the revolution has shed light on the tension that exists between what it means to be a secular feminist in Egypt and what it means to be an Islamic feminist.
  While both streams of feminism are grounded in feminist discourse and are derivatives of the local culture, Islamic feminism is an “articulation of feminism within an Islamic paradigm” . To those in the movement, secular feminism is viewed as being in stark contradiction to both Islamic and Egyptian values. Unlike the campaigns of secular feminism, which demand equal rights, Islamic feminism does not seek to compete with men in all levels of society, because they concur that men and women are not equals.

The Sisterhood, the female wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, are feminists in their own right, fighting for political emancipation and increased participation in politics, all within the context of a patriarchal movement. Muslim Brotherhood ideology denies that it holds an anti-feminist agenda – rather, it views men and women as holding different roles in society which must be fulfilled to bring about harmony.  There is a curious contradiction that one would imagine to exist between the ideas of feminism and the Brotherhood’s party line, but for Member of Parliament Azza al-Garf, this is merely a construct of Western thinkers. As a member of the Egyptian People’s Assembly, winning a party seat in the 2011 elections, Azza recognizes that her work and “the success of the women this time paves the way for other women in future parliaments” .  As she sees it, her role will allow Egyptians to see more and more capable women taking active roles in politics and in their communities, without needing to enact the Mubarak-era requirement that sixty-four seats in parliament be reserved for women. In a reversal of the laws enacted under the leadership of Suzanne Mubarak, who was the head of the National Council for Women, Azza believes that the status of women will be raised through an articulation of Shaaria law and the use of the Koran as the guiding lines of the constitution. She contends that women can fulfill their role as a housewife as well as a politician. As such, her political alignment is a practical articulation of the Koran, which can be seen in her advocating for stricter divorce laws as well as the legalization of female genital mutilation policies, which, she believes, will improve the lives of women in her country. Her platform stands in harmony with Islamic values, and religiosity permeates every aspect of life and must be applied accordingly.  Female genital mutilation is not consistently recognized as an Islamic practice, though al-Garf uses Islamic rhetoric to defend it, its validity is questioned by other Islamic groups. 

Yet, this face of equality that Azza believes the Brotherhood provides is what former party member Intissar Abdel Moneim decries as an “internalization ofoppression as women are socialized in a way that compels them to accept maledominance within the organization—and the household” . It is clear that Egyptian women have proven that they can organize and articulate their desire for reform, but what remains undetermined is which voice will define what it means to be a modern Muslim woman in Egypt.


Ariel Brickman

Diwaniyya Contributor