Gender Wars: The Muslim Brotherhood Versus Egypt’s Women

Women Egypt Gigi Ibrahim.jpg

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) issued a highly critical statement yesterday against the draft proposal of the UN declaration on women’s rights.  The Muslim Brotherhood statement says that the proposed draft includes articles “that contradict established principles of Islam, undermine Islamic ethics and destroy the family”, and, if ratified, “would lead to [the] complete disintegration of society.”

The statement by the MB included 10 specific points of contention, the most controversial of which are the belief that ratifying the document would lead to the following: 

  • Granting equal rights to adulterous wives and illegitimate sons resulting from adulterous relationships.
  • Giving wives full rights to file legal complaints against husbands accusing them of rape or sexual harassment, obliging competent authorities to deal husbands punishments similar to those prescribed for raping or sexually harassing a stranger.
  • Replacing guardianship with partnership, and full sharing of roles within the family between men and women such as: spending, child care and home chores.
  • Full equality in marriage legislation such as: allowing Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men, and abolition of polygamy, dowry, men taking charge of family spending, etc.
  • Removing the authority of divorce from husbands and placing it in the hands of judges, and sharing all property after divorce
  • Cancelling the need for a husband’s consent in matters like: travel, work, or use of contraception.

What is interesting about the MB’s objections, besides seemingly taking issue with women’s equality as a concept and with recognizing that husbands can rape their wives, is that their objections are more inferred from the spirit of the draft document than from the document itself. What is even more bizarre is objecting to topics that weren’t even mentioned in the draft, like “granting equal rights to homosexuals, and providing protection and respect to prostitutes.” 

Unfortunately, the National Council for Women (NCW) focused on the latter point, attacking the Muslim Brotherhood stance, describing it as a “misleading statement” that aims for sensational and inflammatory politics. I say unfortunately because that entirely misses the point of the MB statement and doesn’t provide the appropriate response that the NCW should have given.

For example, while the draft resolution doesn’t call for providing protection or respect for prostitutes, it does call for ending violence against all women, which would include the minority that work in prostitution. Those women, while their job may be deemed immoral or illegal in certain countries, deserve protection from violence like any other human being or citizen of their country, a fact which the MB seems to take issue with. Aside from using religion to oppose equality between men and women, they are even advocating dehumanizing – in the sense of deeming them unworthy of their human rights – those they consider morally bankrupt, like lesbians or prostitutes. Protecting these two subgroups of citizens from violence is against Islam according to the MB, and therefore shouldn’t be allowed.

As for “regular” females, the MB believes that giving them the right to deny their husbands sex is blasphemous and that reporting spousal rape is destructive to both the family and society. In a resolution aimed at stopping violence against women, the MB believes that sexual violence is permitted and should not be stopped if it takes place between two married partners. Domestic abuse? What’s that?

To call these objections a set-back to women’s rights in Egypt would be an understatement. The MB object to women even being allowed to use contraceptives without their husband’s consent, let alone work or travel. We are witnessing, in the 21st century, a group that views women as nothing more than second class citizens or an inferior race that men are allowed to control, rape, or treat violently if they were “immoral”, without legal recourse, and in the name of Islam and the protection of society. We are also witnessing the stripping away of the few rights that women had in Egypt before the revolution, which were nowhere near satisfactory then, but look really good now. It’s an outrage, and a sad day for Egyptian women, but will hopefully shine a light on the war that the Muslim Brotherhood has been waging against Egyptian women for the past year.

The National Salvation Front (NSF), the main opposition coalition against the Muslim Brotherhood, whose voter-base is the women of the country, should stand firmly against such policies and recommendations. Unfortunately, social policy discourse, especially relating to women’s rights, has been severely lacking in Egypt, with some attributing this to the fact that the NSF is made up of 13 men. That needs to change. If the women of Egypt are to fight for their rights against the kind of misogynistic assault the MB seems intent on unleashing on them, the entity championing their issue cannot be made entirely of men, no matter how liberal or open-minded they may be. Now, more than ever, the need for a female political entity advancing women’s rights is paramount.

The international community would be correct to condemn the MB’s objections, particularly since they contravene international agreements and treaties of which Egypt is a signatory, and which as a group, they have promised to honor.  Another commendable policy is the “more for more” approach that the European Parliament has taken to financial aid to Egypt, linking aid to democratic reforms. Interestingly, in a statement published today, MEP’s are withholding financial support to Egypt until they see progress in democracy, human rights and rule of law. Their first point? Stopping violence against women.  By virtue of rapid response or fortunate timing, the EU Parliament is on the right side at the right time of the issue, and hopefully the rest of the world will follow.

Mahmoud Salem is an Egyptian blogger and activist, better known as Sandmonkey.

Photo: Gigi Ibrahim

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