Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Women and Democracy in the New Egypt

by Isobel Coleman
July 28, 2011

An Egyptian protester demanding political change attends a night prayer during clashes with loyalists of the ruling military council near the defence ministry in Cairo, July 23, 2011 (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Just last week, Egypt’s transitional government announced that it would eliminate existing quotas for women in the parliamentary elections scheduled for this fall. Women’s groups in Egypt have pounced upon this development as another worrying sign that they risk losing ground in the new political order. Long gone are the inspirational images of gender solidarity in Tahrir Square in the early days of Egypt’s revolution. They have been replaced by ugly episodes of targeted harassment of women and bickering over whether women should be allowed to run for president.  In fact, one woman—Bothaina Kamel—has already declared her candidacy, much to the chagrin of conservatives who insist that it is against sharia for a woman to be a political leader. In fact, as religious parties move to center stage in Egypt and Tunisia, women’s groups in both countries will face new challenges.

In a recent Policy Brief for the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), I explore some of these challenges and discuss ways that the United States can move beyond rhetorical support for women and encourage gender equality in both the political and legal spheres during these fluid political times. This could include conditioning financial aid and political support on the progression of women’s rights, using media to shine a spotlight on these issues, and building cross-country networks to strengthen women’s groups in the region. I look forward to your feedback on these recommendations.

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  • Posted by Drew

    What course of action do you think would be most effective for the United States to pursue in order to leverage the re-establishment of gender quotas and enshrine the principles of gender equality in the Egyptian constitution? There seems to be a severe dearth of literature and policy recommendations that would have the United States target democracy assistance towards the achievement of quotas (not only in Egypt but in the Arab world at large) and I’d like to see what you think could be done.

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