Egyptian Women & The Muslim Brotherhood: Bros before hos or no?

by Debbie Stoller

If yo’ve been following the news, you’re already aware that there’s been a lot of fear that the revolution in Egypt might be hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that wants to institute Sharia law in Egypt. Of course, the West is frightened of this prospect because it would mean that Egypt would  become a hostile country, just like Iran. That’s definitely worrying, but of greatest concern to me is the question of whether Egyptian women would see most of their rights taken away if Egypt falls under the religious right’s rule, just as what happened after Iran’s 1979 revolution. And if they would, then perhaps our greatest hope for keeping the Muslim Brotherhood from taking over in Egypt is Egypt’s women.

Does the Muslim Brotherhood pose a real threat? According to Women’s Enews, it does. “The Muslim Brotherhood, (is) an international Islamist movement and the best organized opposition to Mubarak’s regime.”

The report goes on to state that, although the Muslim brotherhood “.. is formally banned in Egypt,…  some of its members, including women, have participated in local elections, running as independents.”

Surprised to read that women are involved in the brotherhood? So was I. So I decided to read more about its history.

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Turns out that women have been involved in the Muslim Brotherhood since the beginning, as explained by this source :

In 2007, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood stated that its vision was based on “complete equality” between men and women while preserving their different social roles. The Brotherhood also stressed the need to empower women so they might acquire rights in the public sphere that do not conflict with society’s basic values.

The statement also referred to the “dominating negative social view regarding women” and the need to change it by making society fully aware of women’s rights beyond the right to education, which is widely accepted in Egyptian society.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s first women’s division, the Muslim Sisters Group, was created in 1932. Since then, women activists have been at the forefront of the social and political struggle of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt, which seeks to establish a democratic political system in the country with an Islamic frame of reference.

Women activists advocating for an Islamic political system through the Brotherhood believe that Islam brought justice to women. Their lack of equal rights presently, they insist, has to do more with the cultural, political and social realities in which their movement functions than with the movement itself.

So really, there is a sub-group of the Muslim brotherhood called the “Muslim Sisters Group,” and it was started in 1032.

female supporters of muslim brotherhood
Female suppoerters of Muslim Brotherhood

Yet, we know that the Brotherhood wants to institute Sharia law, and things don’t look so good for women’s rights under Sharia law,:

“According to the Sharia, despite declarations of the equality of the sexes before God, women are considered inferior to men, and have fewer rights and responsibilities. A woman counts as half a man in giving evidence in a court of law, or in matters of inheritance. Her position is less advantageous than a man’s with regard to marriage and divorce. A husband has the moral and religious right and duty to beat his wives for disobedience or for perceived misconduct. A woman does not have the right to choose her husband, or her place of residence, to travel freely or have freedom in her choice of clothing. Women have little or no autonomy and are deemed to need the protection of their fathers, husbands or other male relatives throughout their lives. Any conduct that undermines the idea of male supremacy will fall foul of the Sharia.”

Given that, if I were an Egyptian woman advocating for the overthrow of Mubarak, I’d be pretty concerned about the possibility of the Brotherhood ruining everything.Yet  according to this NY Times article, Egyptian women don’t seem to be worried about it: 

“If there is a democracy, we will not allow our rights to be taken away from us,” Sherine, a university professor, told the NY Times reporter, who went on to say  that “like many, she said that Americans were too obsessed with the possibility of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood gaining power in elections.”

“We do not worry about the Muslim Brotherhood,” Sherine said. “They might win 25 percent of the votes, but if they do not perform then they will not get votes the next time.””

The question of the Muslim Brotherhood’s for women in Egypt is seomthing that the Egyption-born feminist Mona Elthway, who in the past few months has become one of the most outspoken sources of information for the women’s perspective on the revolution, has battled with for years. Way back in 2005, when the Brotherhood actually ran a female candidate, Makarem el-Deiry, in Egypt, Elthway commented on why this woman was not going to be getting her support.

Makarem el-Deiry, a mother of seven, made it a point to stress that a woman’s place is in the home where their main role is to be a good mother who looks after their children. She is presumably working outside of the home – she lectures in Arabic literature at Al-Azhar University, from where she holds a Ph.D – because her husband, Ibrahim Sharaf, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, is dead and her children are grown.

Not only were her campaign statements insulting to those of us who believe a woman’s role outside of the home is just as important as inside, but her words were also callously out of touch with the reality of the very people that the Muslim Brotherhood pride themselves on reaching out to: Egypt’s poor.

Maybe women in el-Deiry’s Nasr City constituency can afford to live on their husbands salaries alone, but many families in Egypt need two salaries to survive and more than a quarter of households in Egypt are supported by women alone. In such homes, the male breadwinner has either lost his job or he has abandoned his family altogether.

Dr. Makarem made the absurd assertion to Agence France Presse that women and children in the West are victims of violence because they have forgotten over there that men are superior to women. She did not explain why women and children face identical violence in Arab societies.

Explaining why she thought that God had granted Muslim men alone the right to initiate divorce, el-Deiry said “Women are impulsive, they ask for divorce and then they regret their decision.”

There is probably nothing worse than a woman who uses religion to undermine herself. While el-Deiry is fully entitled to hold herself in such low esteem, the Muslim Brotherhood must not be allowed to apply such lowly attitudes to the rest of us.”

Makarem el-Deiry in 2005

As it turns out, el-Deiry lost her bid to represent Nasr City.

Now, five years later, on Bill Maher’s HBO show last friday, Elthawy could barely contain her excitement about seeing the revolution actually happening, but even after being repeatedly asked by Maher about whether she feared the Muslim Brotherhood, she never seemed to directly address it. Is she letting her enthusiasm getting the best of her, or is there really nothing to worry about here?

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If we truly believe in Democracy, then of course the Muslim Brotherhood has as much right to run their man (or woman) as any other party. Then again, Egyptian women didn’t get the right to vote until 1956 , and it seems that this right could be just as easily taken away from them should the Brotherhood come to power.


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