Last week Asharq al-Awsat devoted an entire page to answering the question: What if the Muslim Brotherhood ruled? The round up of opinions made for interesting reading but there was an important question that that they did not tackle: What will life be like for women if the Muslim Brotherhood ruled?
Ask Makarem el-Deiry the Brotherhood”s only female candidate who lost her bid to represent Nasr City.
In an election in which the National Democratic Party fielded just six women, it is difficult to criticize a female candidate. But I could not support el-Deiry just because she was a woman.
Makarem el-Deiry, a mother of seven, made it a point to stress that a woman”s place is in the home where their main role is to be a good mother who looks after their children. She is presumably working outside of the home – she lectures in Arabic literature at Al-Azhar University, from where she holds a Ph.D – because her husband, Ibrahim Sharaf, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, is dead and her children are grown.
Not only were her campaign statements insulting to those of us who believe a woman”s role outside of the home is just as important as inside, but her words were also callously out of touch with the reality of the very people that the Muslim Brotherhood pride themselves on reaching out to: Egypt”s poor.
Maybe women in el-Deiry”s Nasr City constituency can afford to live on their husbands salaries alone, but many families in Egypt need two salaries to survive and more than a quarter of households in Egypt are supported by women alone. In such homes, the male breadwinner has either lost his job or he has abandoned his family altogether.
Dr. Makarem made the absurd assertion to Agence France Presse that women and children in the West are victims of violence because they have forgotten over there that men are superior to women. She did not explain why women and children face identical violence in Arab societies.
Explaining why she thought that God had granted Muslim men alone the right to initiate divorce, el-Deiry said "Women are impulsive, they ask for divorce and then they regret their decision."
Thank God al-Azhar, where el-Deiry teaches, forgot or ignored this supposed impulsiveness and chose instead to bless legislation passed in 2000 granting women the right to initiate divorce, called Khul.
There is probably nothing worse than a woman who uses religion to undermine herself. While el-Deiry is fully entitled to hold herself in such low esteem, the Muslim Brotherhood must not be allowed to apply such lowly attitudes to the rest of us.
A quick tour of Islamist attitudes towards women in Arab countries is a warning of their damaging views. In Palestine, just ask women how they have been marginalized by Hamas over the past few years. In Kuwait, ask women about the Islamist candidates who until this year blocked legislation giving them the right to vote. And ask Algerian women about the violence unleashed on them by Islamists. In Jordan, ask women who besides Islamists parliamentarians consistently reject moves to toughen sentences against honour crimes and who besides the Islamists oppose legislation granting women the right to divorce. But then, according to el-Deiry, they should probably thank these Islamists for barring them from the right to initiate divorce because they are after all impulsive and might ask for a divorce and then regret it.
Why do we allow religious zealots to apply their most extreme opinions against women? Why is it we can make eloquent arguments about the dangers of such zealots to religious minorities and to liberal attitudes and yet remain silent about their dangers to women?
I cannot talk about the Muslim Brotherhood”s position on women without mentioning hijab. For many in Egypt this might be a moot point. They will say that the majority of Egyptian women wear the hijab. While this might be true, it certainly isn”t the point.
Regular readers of my articles will remember that in an interview in June with Mahdi Akef, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, I asked him if the group planned to change anything in the Egyptian constitution regarding women”s rights should they ever come to power.
To prove to me that the Brotherhood would not endanger women”s rights, Akef pointed to me and said that although I was "naked" I had been allowed to enter his office. I objected and insisted I was not "naked." I was wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt and trousers. I said there were many views on Muslim women”s dress but he insisted that there were no differences among the views.
Such an attitude not only belies the Brotherhood”s true attitude towards women, but it also highlights the two languages they use: one with Egyptian or Muslim journalists and another with Western journalists. Akef would never have told a Western journalist she was "naked."
Egyptians are fed up of government authoritarianism and we certainly do not want to replace it with the Brotherhood”s religiously-inspired authoritarianism.
The Muslim Brotherhood wrap themselves up so tightly in the colours of Islam that anyone who criticizes their positions will be accused of criticizing Islam itself. But we must overcome whatever imaginary red lines they draw for us. We must embrace the word "secularism" and embrace without guilt its concept of separation of religion from politics.
We must not be silenced out of misplaced sympathy just because the Brotherhood are banned or because the government went out of its way to arrest and harass Brotherhood voters in the later rounds of these elections. We condemn the violence and the vote rigging but we must not be guilt tripped into silently accepting the Muslim Brotherhood”s positions.
This is especially true of their positions on women – even if they use women to make those positions.