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Egypt's Islamist parties are all about marriage, not politics for women

The meetings organized by the Nour Party for its female members discussing marital issues have raised controversy as to the role of female politicians in the Egyptian political scene.
People walk in front of election campaign posters for the Salafist al-Nour Party, during the second round of parliament elections in Cairo, Egypt, November 23, 2015, on the final day of voting in Egypt's two-phase parliamentary elections. Egyptians voted on Sunday in the second phase of elections that are meant to restore parliament after a more than three-year hiatus but which critics say have been undermined by widespread repression. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh - RTX1VE76

The Salafi Nour Party organized meetings on April 1-15 for its female members about marriage and the interaction between husbands and wives within the home.

These meetings for women were the Nour Party's first on this topic and included advice on how to interact with a spouse depending on his personality, how to handle marital difficulties and individual recommendations on a woman's personal situation. The meetings also tackled intimacy in a marital relationship and how to take on an active role as a partner. The meetings, which are part of the party's activities for its female members, aim at promoting the importance of the women’s committee in the party, Abdel Fattah al-Abrashi, the secretary of the party’s committees, said in a press statement April 15.

The meetings, in addition to other Nour Party stances that marginalize women, sparked controversy about the role of women in Islamist parties, where the prevailing view is that women should only concern themselves with social issues related to marital life, raising children and building a happy family.

Some believe the Nour Party, which has Islamist inclinations, only nominates women to complete its electoral lists. Mohamed Abu al-Ghar, a former leader of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, condemned the marginalization of the role of women, especially within Islamist parties. The Egyptian electoral law stipulates that all political parties or blocs need at least seven women to complete its electoral list.

While the Nour Party encourages its female supporters to vote for its candidates, the role of women in the party is restricted to participating in seminars and meetings that have nothing to do with political participation and partisan roles.

Sameh Eid, an independent specialized researcher on Islamist movements, told Al-Monitor that the Nour Party and Islamist parties in general have a condescending opinion of women. They believe women have to obey their husbands and act according to their orders only. Women are scorned and only climb up the ladder in Islamist organizations if their husbands reach a leading position; if the husband is demoted, so is his wife.

Eid said that the Muslim Brotherhood is the most progressive in this regard, because they encourage women’s candidacy in trade union elections, university staff clubs and parliament. Women in the Brotherhood, such as member of parliament Azza El Garf, the wife of Muslim Brotherhood leader Badr Mohamed Badr, are empowered to train members for political activities and address the media.

Eid noted that the Nour Party and the Salafi parties are still the most radical, as they force their female members to wear the niqab, while the Muslim Brotherhood only imposes the hijab. For this reason, women within the Nour Party are viewed as less capable of appearing in the media or facing public opinion. He added that the Nour Party does not promote women to leading roles and their role in Islamist currents continue to decline.

The female members of the Nour Party are given a strict political education, but political work needs freedom from all the restraints of the Salafi party, according to Eid. He said that when the women give lectures to young or older men, they have to talk from behind a black curtain or address the audience from another room through loudspeakers.

These meetings are not the only examples of women’s marginalization within the Nour Party and the Islamist current. In the past, the party has sparked controversy for its stances toward women; it was criticized twice in regard to female candidates on its lists. The first time was during the 2011 parliamentary elections in the wake of the January 25 Revolution, when the Nour Party participated for the first time in the elections since its formation in June 2011. The party used the image of a rose or a lantern instead of the female candidates’ photos on the list. During the 2015 parliamentary elections, the party again did not print female candidates' photos, including those of the Coptic candidates.

Nader Bakar, a spokesman for the Nour Party, said in a press statement in October 2015 that the female candidates themselves do not want their photos shown, and they cannot be forced.

The party only won 12 seats in the 2015 elections, while the lists including female candidates lost. Suzan Samir, a Coptic candidate on the Nour Party's list, said that during these elections the party ignored its Coptic candidates after its electoral lists lost, and it no longer contacted them or shared any decisions with them.

Abdul Moneim al-Shahat, a leader in the Nour Party and the Salafi Dawa Party, told Al-Monitor that women in the party participate in the cultural and media activities that have nothing to do with the elections. He said that training women to be better wives is related to preaching rather than politics.

“Men are also trained to be good husbands and fathers. Life is based on partnerships, but perhaps critics have stereotypes about us or have another perspective that does not consider women present unless they are emancipated from things we do not see as restraining. Some traits are God-given and are in the interest of men and women alike who are well-aware of the Sharia conditions that help complete them and believe in its justice and wisdom. They do not face gender-related problems that other societies talk about,” Shahat said.

According to defected Nour Party leader Sameh Abdel Hamid, women play a major role in Islamist parties. He told Al-Monitor, “Women participate in medical, educational and social committees and accompany medical convoys to different areas to take part in social activities, eradicate illiteracy and provide services to women.”

He noted that women participate in the electoral process, as they participate in the campaign, run in the elections and vote. He only spoke about the role of women in social activities, and did not mention any political role played by women in Islamist parties outside the elections.

Although the Nour Party has been involved in political work since the January 25 Revolution, it still maintains its perspective of women, limiting their role to marriage and motherhood without allowing them to effectively participate in political life.

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