Will The Post-Mubarak Egypt Shut Women Out?



Egypt's revolution this year drew thousands of men and women to the streets for protests that ended President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year reign. A month later, hundreds of Egyptian women returned to Cairo's Tahrir Square to rally for equal rights. They were attacked, shouted down by men, and 18 were arrested by the military. As the new government begins to take shape, women are conspicuously missing from its makeup.

Mona Makram-Ebeid joins us to discuss women's rights in Egypt. She's a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, a former member of the Egyptian parliament and currently on the Council of Trustees of the Revolution. She's also in our studio.

Thank you so much for coming in.

Professor MONA MAKRAM-EBEID (Political Science, American University, Cairo): Thank you for having me.

HANSEN: Women have a long list of demands; representation in parliament for one, economic opportunities, educational opportunities. Are you likely to get the ears of the new leaders?

Prof. MAKRAM-EBEID: Yes, absolutely. We have an excellent prime minister who's very well-attuned to women's rights. He hasn't done much until now but I know that he hears. And the environment today is more conducive for women to assert their rights, particularly in the area of political participation, professional and technical employment.

Today, we, the pro activist Democrats, we want proportional representation so as to give more opportunities for women and for Christians, and for youth -which is very similar to your affirmative action here. That's what we want.

HANSEN: Now, you were in the parliament 20 years ago. Were you treated equally? What was your experience there?

Prof. MAKRAM-EBEID: No, I prefer to speak about my latest experience which was last year. You know, I was the first woman, the first Christian woman to have succeeded in the elections. And the next day they removed me, after it had been announced in all the papers and the televisions.

My experience in parliament is that you have to assert herself. Of course they were looking at me like, you know, there was this paternalistic look from the speaker who's not supposed to do that and, you know, who would give me the floor once out of 10 times after I asked for it. And they were not very interested if you speak about women's issues.

I had tried at the time to have a women's caucus, but there was no encouragement in that, and women thought that this would be badly looked upon by the men. Many women think things that, you know, politics is a man's business and they are bashful. I think after 25th of January, all this has changed. There is a new spirit among the young generation of men and women today who have given their lives for dignity, justice and freedom.

HANSEN: For the first time in Egypt's history, a woman is running for president, Buthayna Kamel. It seems it could be a sign that things are changing. What do you think her chances are?

Prof. MAKRAM-EBEID: None. But she is establishing a precedent and that is even more important for the time being. Just like women when they entered parliament, they didn't enter parliament from the very beginning; it's only in '56 that they got the right to vote and the right to be eligible for parliamentarian seats. But then people got used to it.

So this will take less time but people will get used to the idea. And I'm very glad that she's running. Maybe I said that she doesn't have any chance because I'm a realistic. But I'm very, very happy that she is running. And I'm sure that a lot of women will be campaigning for her. So I am really very hopeful.

HANSEN: Youve outlined so many things that you are aiming for, for women in Egypt. But there was the protest and there were the men yelling at them. Do you expect to have to do that again?

Prof. MAKRAM-EBEID: Do you think that we will be scared by men yelling at us? We can yell 10 times more. That you can be sure of. And secondly, we will go back to Tahrir Square. We will ask for our rights and you'll see that they will have to back down.

HANSEN: Mona Makram-Ebeid is a professor of political science at American University of Cairo, a former member of the Egyptian parliament. And she is currently on the Council of Trustees of the Revolution.

Thank you so much for coming in.

Prof. MAKRAM-EBEID: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.