Egyptian women played a crucial role in the “25 January Revolution”, which overthrew the regime of President Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. Yet, it appears that this participation has improved neither their political representation nor their position in society in general. On the contrary, it seems that the political and military forces in power have undermined certain rights consolidated or acquired by women in the Mubarak era. The feminist movement, partly due to being associated with the former first lady Suzanne Mubarak, has found it increasingly difficult to promote women’s rights.
Political and legal developments
The quota system – which reserved 64 People’s Assembly seats for women – was abolished. It was replaced with a rule that every political party should include at least one woman on its list of candidates in parliamentary elections. Moreover, straight after the revolution women’s rights were not on the agenda of any political party, which arguably explains very limited political representation of women in both the parliament and the government.
Furthermore, some political parties have questioned important elements of women’s rights legislation, including:
- the so-called khula law allowing a woman to obtain a divorce without her husband’s consent;
- the right of women to travel alone without the consent of a male relative;
- the right to have custody over their children until the age of 15;
- the law granting children born to an Egyptian mother and a foreign father the right to Egyptian nationality.
The use of violence by the state
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has not refrained from using violence against women. Numerous incidents have been reported, including:
- Soldiers beating and dragging a woman across the street during the parliamentary elections, exposing her bare midriff and bra. The widely circulated footage also showed a soldier brutally stomping on her chest.
- In March 2011, when the army forced protesters out of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, 18 women were insulted, detained, beaten and, strip-searched. Seven of them, who identified themselves as unmarried, were subjected to “virginity tests” at a military prison. They were also threatened that those deemed “not to be virgins” would be charged with prostitution. Several were further convicted of offences such as disorderly conduct and obstructing traffic, and were sentenced to suspended prison terms. Only one of the seven women – Samira Ibrahim – filed a lawsuit against the military. In December 2011, the Court of Administrative Justice ruled that the tests violated the Egyptian Constitution and international law and ordered the military to suspend them. In March 2012 the military court acquitted an army doctor accused of conducting those tests, which provoked public outrage.
- In November 2011 Mona Eltahawy, an American–Egyptian journalist, was arrested and detained for 12 hours by the security forces amid ongoing protests. She alleged that she was sexually assaulted by security officials and beaten, which resulted in her left hand and right arm fractures.
Amidst ongoing clashes between President Musri’s opponents and supporters, it is still very difficult to predict what the future holds for Egyptian women.
Annual Report 2012 / Amnesty International.
World Report 2012: Egypt / Human Rights Watch.
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011: Egypt / U.S. Department of State.
The text is one of the four summaries published on the same day by the Library of the European Parliament. See also:
Women in 2011–2012 reports: Iran
Women in 2011–2012 reports: Syria
Women in 2011–2012 reports: Tunisia