Egypt’s first-ever female governor marches to a different drummer

In a move that broke with a long-standing tradition of appointing retired military or police officers as governors, Nadia Abdu was named governor of Egypt's Beheira governorate.

al-monitor Nadia Abdu, who became the country's first-ever female governor, sits with the military commander for the Northern Region. Posted Feb. 21, 2017. Photo by Facebook/elbehera.
Menna A. Farouk

Menna A. Farouk


Topics covered

water crisis, gender equality, women and islam, women in society, women in politics, egyptian politics

Feb 21, 2017

Last week, Egypt appointed the country’s first-ever female governor — a post traditionally given to retired military or police officers.

With the Feb. 16 reshuffle of governors, engineer Nadia Abdu, 73, became the first woman in Egypt's history to hold such a leading post. Abdu was named governor for the Nile Delta governorate of Beheira.

“The appointment is an affirmation of the state’s belief that women are capable of taking over leading positions in the country as well as an appreciation of their role in contributing to Egypt’s progress,” Abdu told Al-Monitor.

Abdu is the first woman to hold the post of deputy governor and the first woman to hold the post of chairperson of the national water company in Alexandria.

For religious and cultural reasons, it is difficult to have female civil servants in high-ranking positions in Egypt, especially in the Cabinet and the judiciary. Hikmat Abu Zeid was the first woman to become a Cabinet minister in Egypt in September 1962.

The first woman to hold a judicial position in Egyptian history was Tahani al-Gebali, who was appointed in 2003. She held the position of vice president of the Supreme Constitutional Court, the highest court in Egypt, until 2007.

Abdu said that the integration of women into the political and leadership scene in Egypt is gradually evolving and her appointment is the “best proof.”

“It is changing over the years, and Egypt is moving toward fulfilling gender equality in all fields,” she added.

During her tenure in office, Abdu said that she would focus on accomplishing all underway projects that are expected to “lead to real development in the governorate.” Abdu noted, “The completion of the industrial zones, suspended projects, sewage projects and development of the poorest villages are on the top of my priorities.”

Abdu explained that such projects would woo foreign businesspeople to pump investments into the governorate and start new ventures that would provide job opportunities for the city’s young people. “Turning the governorate into an investor-attractive city is my target,” Abdu said.

The new governor said that she would fight tooth and nail to eliminate the problem of water shortages and sewage treatment in her city this year.

Abdu received her bachelor's degree in engineering in the chemistry department at Alexandria University in 1968, and then she received a master's degree in sanitary engineering from the same university. She has two sons who also graduated from the same faculty.

She was appointed as the deputy governor of Beheira in 2013 and supervised national projects in the governorate, including water and sewage projects. She founded the Arab Countries Water Utilities Association and is a member of the general assembly of the World Water Council.

She also headed the Egyptian Holding Company for Water and Wastewater for 10 years from 2002 until 2012 and is a member of the National Council for Women and the Businessmen Association in Alexandria.

Abdu’s political career began in 2010 when she won a seat in parliament with the now-defunct National Democratic Party.

On Feb. 16, Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail announced a reshuffle of the top posts in five of 27 governorates: New Valley, El-Qalubiya, El-Daqahliya, Alexandria and Beheira.

Shortly after the announcement of Abdu’s appointment, some ultraconservative Salafi groups have denounced the move, saying that a woman does not have leadership skills. Salafi preacher Sameh Abdel Hamid said that women are not eligible to take up leading positions. “Men are the only people capable of leading others, and scholars have agreed on this,” Abdel Hamid said.

However, the appointment has drawn the applause and praise of several women’s rights groups and nongovernmental organizations.

Mona Ezzat, an official at the New Women Foundation, said that the appointment is a very positive move in the direction of breaking gender stereotypes, empowering women and giving them leading posts. Ezzat noted that the move affirms the state’s rejection of calls by some people not to appoint women as governors for security reasons.

“The appointment came to prove that the government believes women have leadership capabilities and can make a change in society,” she told Al-Monitor. Ezzat added that the move coincides with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s labeling of 2017 as the year for women, “which reflects the state’s willingness to support and empower women in all aspects of life.”

Ezzat also said that the new female governor should be assessed just like any other governor with no regard to her gender. “If she did good things, we would praise her efforts. And if she did not, she would be criticized — just like any other previous governor,” Ezzat added.

Abdu said that people can assess her performance after just one month of her appointment. “I will also conduct a regular monthly assessment of my performance in order to know the mistakes and flaws and avoid or correct them,” she added.

Abdu also said that she would work on empowering women and girls in her governorate and give them leading posts. “I will give women who have a high level of efficiency and knowledge leading positions in several institutions,” she said. “It is their right to be leaders. It is their right to be on the top.”

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