Muslim Brotherhood Opposed Women’s Council Reform
By: Bisan Kassab
Published Friday, February 17, 2012
A proposed reshuffling of the National Women’s Council by the ruling military council is facing stiff resistance from the Freedom and Justice Party, raising fears about the future status of women in Egypt.
Cairo – It was perhaps the first time that the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, has firmly stood up to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
The reasons for this change in tone were not that the SCAF was ignoring popular demands to accelerate the transfer of power. Nor were the Muslim Brotherhood motivated by the handling of the investigation into the Port Said football massacre. It was not even over SCAF chief Muhammad Hussein Tantawi’s refusal to appear before parliament.
The FJP is angry about a SCAF decision to restructure the National Council for Women (NCW), in order to boost the effectiveness of the state agency that promotes the participation of women in society and politics.
The Islamist party’s reaction has brought back fears over the status of women’s rights under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Before the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood had repeatedly announced their opposition to the idea of a woman assuming the presidency.
But this was during former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s reign, and no one, male or female, had a chance of taking his place. So, the issue did not have much of an impact on public opinion.
But rejecting the proposed changes to the women’s council, despite its marginal role, reflects the party’s stand toward the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which the FJP has vowed to reconsider.
Since signing the convention in 1981, Egypt has repeatedly stated its reservations on three of its articles, all of which, the government insisted, do not conform to Islamic law.
Last December, FJP Secretary for Women Manal Abul Hassan sparked outrage when she declared that her party will not participate in a planned women’s demonstration to protest soldiers’ violations against female protesters.
Later she accused the women that participated in the demonstration of having “personal agendas.” She also said that “women alone cannot retrieve their rights.”
The party said in a statement on Sunday that endorsing the restructuring of the women’s council “without reconsidering its aim and assessing its performance before the revolution, will only reproduce the same Western plans for which it was established.”
Muhammad Wahdan, head of the education department in the Muslim Brotherhood, told Al-Akhbar that his group rejects “everything that stands in contradiction with the identity of Egyptian society and its customs and traditions.”
“We cannot, for example, reject al-khalaa (women’s right to divorce if she gives up her dowry), because it is part of Islamic sharia. But, we believe that restrictions must be placed on it. The current situation allows a woman to resort to al-khalaa due to the smallest dispute with her husband, which poses a threat to the family,” he added.
Nevine Masaad, who recently joined the NCW, told Al-Akhbar that “the Muslim Brotherhood’s reservations on al-khalaa clearly reflect their future intentions toward women. Al-Khalaa is part and parcel of Islamic sharia, but they still seek to restrict it.”
Masaad also said the NCW will now include two religious scholars – Amenah Naseer and Mahmoud Azab.
As an al-Azhar representative, Azab’s presence in the NCW should “reinforce the council’s credibility against accusations that it is contrary to sharia,” as she put it.
In its effort to discredit the women’s council and CEDAW, the Muslim Brotherhood has tried to link them to the ousted regime in one way or another.
The CEDAW was signed during his reign and the women’s council was headed by none other than Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of the former Egyptian president.
These are facts that the party used liberally in its campaign to revoke al-khalaa, which had been endorsed in 2000 following pressure from Suzanne Mubarak.
The FJP’s executive bureau member, Camelia Hilmy, said that the party is planning to establish a “national family council” as an alternative to the women’s council, without giving any details.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.