Egyptian Ruler Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s “Year of Women”

Picture1.pngOn International Women’s day – March 8, in 2017 – President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt declared 2017 the “Year of Women.”[1]  While many inequalities still remain in Egypt, Sisi’s efforts to improve women’s status last year marked some success. The number of women in government ministries increased, and gender issues have become a more commonplace topic of discussion.

The most revolutionary and positive change for women in Egypt during the “Year of Women” was a new law passed in December that granted women increased access to inheritance rights (RISW-PRACTICE-1).

Egyptian women legally had a constitutional right to an inheritance before the new law was passed, but were often denied it in practice. In a patriarchal and patrilineal culture like Egypt, men are favored in inheritance issues because they are traditionally viewed as the providers for their families, and therefore  more entitled to inheritance than women (IAD-PRACTICE-1, IAW-PRACTICE-1).

The new law reiterates women’s right to inherit, and sets out firm punishments for those who refuse to grant women their rightful share of inheritance. Those who break this law are subject to at least six months in prison and a hefty fine (IAD-LAW-1, IAW-LAW-1). [2]

The advancements made during the 2017 “Year of Women” fall in line with President Sisi’s deliberate efforts to improve the lives of women since he took office in 2014.

On the third day of his presidency, Sisi made an internationally publicized visit to a woman who had been the victim of mass rape while she was taking part in the protests that ultimately ousted the Muslim Brotherhood (IIP-PRACTICE-2).

Picture2.pngDuring President Sisi’s visit to the anonymous victim, he expressed his dedication to combatting the high rates of sexual violence in Egypt. Sisi said to the victim, “I apologize to you, and as a state, we will not allow this to happen again…I am here to tell you and every Egyptian woman I apologize to all of you.” [3]

In addition to the actions President Sisi has taken in office, he has also spoken out on various issues related to women, including child marriage, and divorce (SEGI-PRACTICE-1). [4]

President Sisi’s pro-women agenda sets him apart from his most recent predecessors to the office, the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi, as well as the dictators ruling Egypt before the uprising in 2011.

However, President Sisi’s public advocacy for increased women’s rights comes in stark contrast to his notoriously egregious human rights record.

Reports of systematic torture within Egypt’s prisons have fostered international outrage. [5]

Human Rights Watch reports that under Sisi’s rule, “Egyptian authorities have arrested or charged at least 60,000 people, forcibly disappeared hundreds for months at a time, handed down preliminary death sentences to hundreds more, and sent more than 15,000 civilians to military courts.” [6]

Realizing fears that Sisi is regressing into the dictatorial pattern of his predecessors, the last candidate opposing Sisi’s reelection withdrew from the race last week. [7]

President Sisi’s peculiar mix of violating human rights while promoting women’s rights inspires an important philosophical question: Can women’s rights really be achieved in the absence of democracy?

Recent research would suggest that the answer to this question is a resounding “no.” Numerous studies show the correlation between democracy and women’s rights. [8]  While determining causality in the relationship between women’s rights and democracy has been hotly contested, the relationship is apparent. As women’s rights in Egypt increase, it is fair to expect democratic principles to become more apparent.

The explanation for Sisi’s puzzling identity oscillation between a human rights abuser and an advocate for women’s rights is unclear. However, if Sisi is addressing gender issues as a way to shield his increasingly dictatorial regime from international pressures – as opposed to allowing his political dissidents to freely challenge him – he may be making a mistake.

As women’s rights increase in Egypt, so too will the demand for democratic practices. It is entirely possible that Sisi’s loss of power will come not from the disillusioned dissidents he tortured in prison, but from the Egyptian women he has empowered, and grossly underestimated.

Variables:

RISW-PRACTICE-1

In the past five years, have there been any significant changed in practice or policy that indicates a desire to improve the status of women within society?

SEGI-PRACTICE-1

Are gender issues a topic of public discourse with society? Are there topics that are taboo? Who is speaking out on gender issues in society? Are there certain prominent government or religious figures involved?

IAD-PRACTICE-1

Are daughters customarily able to inherit property, money and assets from their fathers?

IAW-PRACTICE-1

Do wives customarily have inheritance rights?

IAD-LAW-1

Are daughters legally able to inherit from their fathers?

IAW-LAW-1

Are wives legally able to inherit from their husbands?

IIP-PRACTICE-2

Do women actively participate in protests that are not necessarily related to gender issues? And how are women treated when they do so?

—by TPJ

 

Resources:

[1] “Year of Women 2017”. BPW International Congress. https://cairocongress.bpw-international.org/index.php/egypt/year-of-women-2017.

[2] Aman, Ayah. “Egyptian women get inheritance rights”. Al-monitor. December 12, 2017. https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/12/egypt-law-women-inheritance-rights.html.

[3] Krikpatrick, David D. “Egyptian Leader Apologizes to Victim of Sexual Assault in Tahrir Square.” The New York Times. June 11, 2014. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/12/world/middleeast/president-sisi-of-egypt-apologizes-to-victim-of-mass-sexual-assaults.html.

[4] Hosny, Hagar. “Was 2017 really the ‘year of Egyptian women’?” Al-Monitor. December 29, 2017. https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/12/egypt-women-achievements-rights-laws-2017.html.

[5] McVeigh, Karen. “Egypt’s security forces are enforcing ‘torture assembly line’.” The Guardian. September 6, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/sep/06/egypt-security-forces-enforcing-torture-assembly-human-rights-watch-al-sisi.

[6] “France: Stop Ignoring Egypt’s Dire Rights Record: Macron Should End an Era of Indulgence”. 2017. Human Rights Watch. October 23, 2017. https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/10/23/france-stop-ignoring-egypts-dire-rights-record.

[7] “Egypt’s Sisi in ‘uncontested’ presidential race.” The Finance Express. January 27, 2018. https://thefinancialexpress.com.bd/world/africa/egypts-sisi-in-uncontested-presidential-race-1516857432.

[8] Moghadam, Valentine M. “The Gender of Democracy: The Link Between Women’s Rights and Democratization in the Middle East.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. August 20, 2008. http://carnegieendowment.org/sada/21226.

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3 thoughts on “Egyptian Ruler Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s “Year of Women”

  1. V Hudson says:

    What a fascinating puzzle! A dictator with a rotten record on human rights, and yet is pushing for greater legal rights for women, and greater protection of their ability to move in public without fear. I sense a great research question here . . .

  2. Ashley Alley says:

    Fabulous post! Very thought-provoking. I especially enjoyed that zinger at the end, exploring the fact that President Sisi may be setting up his own downfall. If President Sisi isn’t serious about democracy, I find it hard to believe that his pressing for women’s rights is as serious and sincere as he would like us to be. And if he sincerely does want to see the status of Egyptian women elevated, he is sadly ignorant of how that ties directly into an increased demand for democratic culture.

    Thank you again for sharing. These blog posts continue to impress me and really give me pause. Keep up the great work!

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