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 They have been replaced by ugly episodes of targeted harassment of women and bickering over whether women should be allowed to run for president.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.