Women Fight for Equal Rights in Post Mubarak Egypt

“Only reform consistent with the Quran, which indisputably places great value on women, can bring prosperity to Egypt, its people, its government and the Arab region.”  Aylin Kocaman

Rape in Tahrir Square

January 25, 2013 a 19 year old woman is brutally raped at the two year celebration of Hosni Mubarak’s departure from office, one of 19 group sexual assaults that day in Tahrir Square Cairo, Egypt.[1] The Assaults continue on an almost daily basis in Cairo, the center of Egypt’s reformed government, and birthplace of hope for so many Egyptians. Women are being gang raped, women’s bodies, minds and souls are being savagely attacked, while their cries for justice are denied, ignored and mocked by officials. The sheer brutality of these assaults is appalling and even worse is the reluctance of the Egyptian government to do much about it. Male members of the Shura council, the temporary legislative authority in Egypt, have been quoted as saying that this perhaps will teach women to stay away from dangerous places.[2] Clearly, Egypt’s revolution has not changed the oppressive atmosphere for women, they are still being treated as second class citizens, so much so, that their violent sexual assaults are laughed at by men of power. From the ruins of Mobarak’s regime and into a new era, women are the ones who really have something to gain from change, their basic human rights. Women must seize this rare moment of political and social change in the Middle East. Women must speak out and fight for equality in a society that has all but disregarded them.

What has changed?

The end of Mubarak’s rein over Egypt, after much civil unrest, did little to free women from a society that devalues them and their basic rights as humans. Since President Mohamed Morsi has been elected there has been a political move to suppress freedom of speech heavily in Egypt. Popular satirist Bassem Youseff was charged with crimes ranging from defamation to sedition, for no more than making political jokes on television.[3] Also recently, the Shoura Council has seized women’s parliament seats and is trying to put women out of politics all together. Women hold only 2 percent of parliament seats, 11 out of 508. This is a violation of law no. 38/1972 granting women 64 seats.[4] This is a pivotal moment in Egyptian history, with so much on the table women must press the issue. Egyptian women are in danger of living in a country no different than it was under Mubarak’s dictatorship. Furthermore, due to deeply ingrained values and gender roles, women face a future of continued inequality and silent suffering. If women do not continue to push for personal freedoms in Egypt, it will remain as it has been for hundreds of years, a prison. The newly signed Egyptian constitution granting women equal rights does so begrudgingly, and the misogynistic overtones contained within the constitution are hard to overlook.

The Egyptian Constitution

The Egyptian constitution was signed into effect by President Mohamed Morsi in December 2012.  Women were excluded from the committee that amended the new constitution, instead it was written by a committee of only men, some belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. The wording of the new constitution is of great concern to women in Egypt, while granting women equal rights in words, it leaves openings for religious interpretations of men in power. This excerpt from the document is of particular concern, “State is committed to taking all constitutional and executive measures to ensure equality of women to men in all walks of political, cultural, economic and social life,” however, it stresses “without violation of the rules of Islamic Jurisprudence.”[5] Herein lays the root of women’s oppression in Egypt, and in the Middle East. Men’s interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence can lead to the control and oppression women.

History Lessons

Egypt, predominantly Sunni Muslim, has a strong association with the oppression of women, as do many other Middle Eastern countries. However, in the beginnings of the Islamic faith this was not the case. There have been many significant women leaders in the history of Islam since its founding in the 7th century. Muhammad, the father of Islam, surrounded himself with powerful and influential women. Muhammad’s first wife, Khadija bint Khuwaylid, was a powerful businesswoman and fifteen years his senior. Another of his wives, Aisha bint Abu Bakr, was a scholar, a political leader and once led an army into battle.[6] Many scholars of the Islamic religion agree that Islam actually demands that women be full, active members of the society in which they live. But today Islam is an oppressor of women, how is this so? Azizah al Hibri, woman’s’ rights activist and lawyer explains, “Overtime, patriarchal, tribal, and cultural practices that actually contradict Muhammad’s teachings seeped into various schools of Islamic jurisprudence.” [7] Islam, while associated with oppression by many and the common scapegoat of politicians’ sexist agendas, perhaps is not to blame here. Instead women must address deeply ingrained cultural values. Muslims are deeply bound to and by their religion. Most Muslims, men and women alike, feel that laws should be based, at least partially, on Islamic tradition  but culture is not religion; culture is fluid and open to change. Islam is not the oppressor here, it is men’s interpretation of the Quran and Islamic teachings. Women have lived in their current circumstances in Egypt for so long that some have come to expect nothing more than a silent servitude to men. However, others continue fight for their right to be heard.


The collapse of the Mubarak regime was of course a huge success for Egyptians, men and women alike. Egyptians rejoiced at having freed themselves from a dictator. However, with the Morsi regime having such radical Muslim Brotherhood roots, Egyptians, especially women, are growing fearful again.[8] A backslide into the radical fundamentalism of the past would be a tragedy of monumental proportions for women. To have fought and won, only to lose in the end, would be a sad conclusion of the freedom movement in Egypt. Historically women have been treated as second class citizens in the name of misguided logic. Many women have even begun to believe this logic themselves. This is the fashion in which women in Egypt have been controlled for hundreds of years. The cycle must be broken.

For reform to truly happen in Egypt there must be freedom of ideas, democracy, and love for other faiths.[9] The current regime, while promoting these ideas vocally,  is silently suppressing them and in turn suppressing women. Even the horrific sex crimes at Tahrir Square seemed not to raise concern with male Egyptian leaders. Women must speak out now. Women must embrace this air of change before it is lost to them. Women have broken the silence, and there are men who support their cause, however the cause must be furthered. Women must fight to secure places within the government, and they must work to elect more moderate leaders. If women truly want equality in Egypt they must work against many years of oppression to succeed. It will not be easy, in fact it will be painful, but women must fight now for the future generations of Egyptian women.

Women in Egypt fought fiercely for the end of Mubarak’s dictatorship. They did this for Egypt, but also for themselves. They wanted change; an end to oppression and violence against women. Women’s rights groups march everyday in Egypt, and the United Nations recently signed a document to combat violence against women. Mohamed ElBaradei, a liberal opponent and leader of the constitution party, agrees this recognition of the horrific attacks on women in Egypt is a step in the right direction.[10] There are also many other groups that support the women of Egypt; groups like The Egyptian Center for Women’s rights who offer resources and information for those interested.


In Tahrir square women have stood their ground. They have taken responsibility for protecting themselves. They have formed security details to ensure the safety of protesting women. They have refused to be bullied and scared. They have relied on themselves, which is precisely what women need to do in Egypt. They have found through pain and revolution that they have the strength and power to be heard, that individually they may be small but as a group women in Egypt are a force. Surely the process will not happen overnight, it will be slow, as other civil rights movements around the world have been, but every tiny step is progress and every day without an assault is a victory. Women in Egypt are strong and patient, they have proven that through years of suffering. This is their time to rise and be heard.      

Written by John A. Wilson
Email: johnnyheehaw@gmail.com


[1] Marroushi, Nadine, and Salma El Wardany 2013. “Raped Egypt Women Wish Death Over Life as Crimes Ignored.” Bloomberg,com {accessed April 12, 2013}.

[2] Marroushi, Wardany. “Raped Egypt….”

[3] Fahim, Kareem. 2013. “Egyptian Satirist Posts Bail as Authorities Press Case.”  nytimes.com {accessed April 12, 2013}.

[4] 2013. Egyptian center for Women’s Rights. “Shoura Council Seizes Women’s Seats” ecwronline.org {accessed April 20, 2013}

[5] Alami, Mona. 2013. “Egypt Constitution Will be Bad News for Women ,Activists Say.”  usatoday.com. {accessed April 12, 2013}.

[6] Choo Kristin, and Stacy Zarin Goldberg. 2013. “Walking the Tightrope.” ABA Journal 99, n0 2: 38-45. Academic Search Complete, Ebsco Host {accessed April 12, 2013}.

[7] Choo, Kristin. “Walking the Tightrope.”

[8] 2013. Al-Hhram weekly. “Reform in Egypt Must Start With Women.” Ahram.org.eg {accessed April 18, 2013}.

[9] 2013. Al-Hram weekly.

[10] 2013. Ahram Online. “ElBaradei praises UN declaration fighting violence against women.” Ahram.org.eg {accessed April 20, 2013}


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