Following Tunisia, which was the first country to hold elections following the Arab revolutions, Egypt has scheduled its initial set of parliamentary elections for the end of November. In the weeks leading up, complexities regarding the electoral system, which omits one national polling day for three separate elections culminating in January, and the new electoral law and its impact on equal representation of men and women threaten the success of the first post-Mubarak elections. In the transition from Mubarak to a new Egypt, the future of women’s inclusion, participation, freedom and security are a crucial part of defining the ideals the new Egypt will protect, advance and defend, and they remain at risk.
On November 28th, men and women will come to the polls to elect the first post-Mubarak parliament, however, in recent months since Mubarak’s official resignation, women have seen themselves increasingly marginalized in the pursuit of this democracy. Following the transition of political power temporarily to the military, women were excluded from the Constitutional Committee, which was responsible for issuing initial amendments post-revolution, and from subsequent decision guiding the transition process. The committee went on to set requirements through constitutional amendments for the upcoming elections, including an article containing gender-biased language on presidential candidates stating “the president of Egypt cannot be married to a non-Egyptian woman.”
The next blow to women’s political participation came with the removal of the 2010 quota reserving 8% of seats (64 seats in total) for women. In place of the quota, the new electoral law stipulates that two thirds of parliament be elected through a proportional list system and one third through single ticket voting. In the proportional list system, each party list of 8 candidates is required to have at least one woman included, however, similar to the law requiring women’s inclusion on political lists in Tunisia, there has been no stated requirement as to where a woman candidate appears on the list. Thus, with only one woman required to be included per list, and the candidates in the top spots being the only ones likely to gain a seat from each list, the percentage of women in parliament is likely to remain extremely low while still fulfilling the standards set by the new law.
This exclusion has already incited tension between women candidates and their parties. Political activist Gameela Ismael withdrew from the Democratic Alliance (led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party) last week after she was informed that she would be placed in the third instead of the first slot for the downtown Cairo seat. Meanwhile, the Salafist El-Nour Party held a press conference last week and stated that fielding women candidates for parliament is “evil” and that the party is only including women candidates because they have been “forced” to by law. As part of their obligation, they have pledged to field up to seventy women candidates, about twenty of who will reportedly score high on the lists based on their competence and achievements. The liberal Wafd party will put at least two women in its top slots.
Whatever happens in the elections, what’s clear is that women who were at the forefront of the revolution have been pushed back to the sidelines. Egypt, like other countries of the revolution, is at a crucial juncture in determining its future and the ideals it wishes to pursue. Women’s mandated and meaningful inclusion must be an urgent and top priority in rebuilding Egypt and a necessity in transforming this nation according to the vision set forth on January 25 that was hard fought for with the blood, sweat and tears of all of Egypt’s citizens, female and male.