Amidst the upheaval in Egypt, a few glimmers of hope for women have emerged. In the new interim government that is forming after President Mohammed Morsi was forced out by the military, women will fill four key ministerial positions in Egypt. This is the first time in the history of this very conservative country that four women will have this kind of power. Past governments have only had as many as two women, the minister of scientific research and the minister social solidarity.
The main controlling forces of the new government are Mohamed ElBaradei, who was sworn in yesterday as interim vice president for international relations, and Nabil Fahmy, who accepted the foreign minister post.
According to GulfNews, Inas Abdul Dayem, a well-known musician and the former head of the Cairo Opera House, has been nominated to become culture minister. TV anchor Dorya Sharaf Al Deen is is expected to take over the information ministry. Laila Iskander, who is a Christian, has been chosen to become environment minister and Dr. Maha Al Rabat, a health care professional, has been nominated to be health minister in the new 30-member cabinet. More female ministers could also be nominated in this new government.
This is wonderful news and gives promise to a new governing future for Egypt. However, Egypt is still a very difficult place for women to live. Since the uprising started, there has been an astounding increase in rape and sexual harassment of Egyptian women as well as female journalists covering the news in the country.
The sexual harassment of women in Egypt has been called an epidemic. Egyptian anti-sexual harassment groups confirmed that more than a hundred women, amongst them two young foreign female journalists, are reported to have been raped or harassed during protests last week that overturned the Muslim Brotherhood government of President Morsi.
Warnings for women to stay away from Tahrir Square have spread very quickly on Twitter. The lack of ethics, respect of human rights, and decency has resulted in preventing Egyptian women from participating in the protests.
“The rampant sexual attacks during the Tahrir Square protests highlight the failure of the government and all political parties to face up to the violence that women in Egypt experience on a daily basis in public spaces,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These are serious crimes that are holding women back from participating fully in the public life of Egypt at a critical point in the country’s development.”
This abuse and aggression towards women in Egypt is not new. The brutal rape of CBS News journalist Lara Logan in Tahrir Square in 2011 caught the world’s attention, but it did not seem to make much of an impact. According to activists, conditions are now worse.
The attacks on women in Egypt are seen as outcomes of the current mob status of the country, but there is a bigger issue at hand. The rampant rape and sexual assault against women during the protests shows that women are deemed not worthy to be included in the politics of the country.
Hopefully change will occur for women under this new government. Zaman USA editor Arzu Kaya Uranli wrote, “We don’t know yet what is coming next in Egypt, but we all know that democracy is key to long-lasting peace in every country. We have also confirmed that true democracy can only be possible in a society where women are safe in public and when women’s rights are in effect.”
Photo Credit: EPA/MOHAMED OMAR