While we here in the US continue to suffer through the latest ridiculous goings-on of our own election year politics, Egyptians head to the polls today and tomorrow to vote in what is their country’s first ever multi-candidate presidential race and the first major election since long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak took a hike last winter. With thirteen people in the running, Egyptians of course have an appropriately diverse array of candidates from which to select their brand new president, right? Well, maybe not so much.
Unfortunately, I’m sure it surprises few to learn that all of the names on the ballot belong to men, after the only woman campaigning, an activist and former television anchor named Bothaina Kamel, failed to collect enough signatures to qualify. And the all-male race isn't even really the worst of it. Compounding the problem is that none of the men seeking the presidency have even expressed any great interest in appealing to women or meeting with women's organizations, despite the fact that women make up 52% of voters, head 33% of Egyptian households, and are, you know, people too. Most of the candidates have ties either to the conservative Islamist movement or to the old Mubarak regime, neither of which have much of a reputation as bastions of feminist sentiment. It's a depressing reality after so many hoped women would gain new heights in the wake of the Arab Spring.
All hope, however, is not lost. Egypt’s women aren't sitting on their hands as the votes are counted, but are actively in the streets organizing around the goal of a more equal country. Thousands have participated in protests against the violence inflicted on women by the current ruling military regime. Many are petitioning and advocating for female participation in the assembly writing the country’s new constitution, a group with more potential for power than even a president. Ten pioneering women hold seats in Parliament. And one activist, Dalia Ziada, is working with the Ibn Khaldun Center for Democratic Studies to launch a program that will recruit, train, and support women seeking leadership roles in any and all sectors of society. Their goal, Ziada says, is to “achieve real change” by empowering young women. And that, we can agree, is pretty awesome. Here’s to hoping the next presidential race will reflect their efforts. Stay tuned.
image source telegraph.co.uk, guardian.co.uk