Sunday, January 08, 2012

Meanwhile*, in Egypt

Islamists have done exceedingly well in the Egyptian elections:
The Brotherhood’s party said on its website that it has won 41 percent of seats in the new parliament.

The Salafi Al-Nour party trailed second, winning nearly 27 percent of seats.

The two Islamist parties together chalked up nearly 65 percent of seats in the new parliament.

The liberal Egyptian Bloc and Al-Wafd party won 9 percent of seats each, while Mubarak loyalists took nearly 4 percent, according to results published on the FJP’s website.

The Revolution Continues, a coalition of youth activists, took only 2 percent of seats and the moderate Islamist Al Wasat won 2 percent, while the rest were taken by independents.

Not sure why the numbers for the two Islamic parties getting the most votes don't add up to the total given above. But in any case they are the clear winners.

What does this mean for the women of Egypt? This is difficult to predict in detail but the odds are reduced freedoms:
The role of religion in defining the relationship between citizens and the state has for some time been mainly limited issues of personal status. Many Egyptians are religious, and yet the impact of religion on people's daily lives tends to be independent to a large degree of any kind of state interference.
Perhaps this is why, with the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and the Salafi-orinted Nour Party picking up more than half the seats in recent parliamentary elections, Cairo residents, and others across the country, are voicing their concern.
The FJP has said there will be no major changes in the relationship between society, the state and religion, and that there is nothing to worry about. However, some Nour Party candidates and Salafi politicians have been speaking as though the extremist Islamification of Egyptian society is just around the corner. Although the newly elected parliament has yet to make any laws, the statements of Salafis have had many moderate and secular Egyptians up in arms.


Mohamed Emara, a member of the Nour Party and its victorious candidate in the South Cairo constituency, declared on 3 December that stricter regulations would be applied to alcohol sales, bank lending, and beach attire.
The future MP noted in an interview with state-run daily Akhbar al-Youm that the phrase “civil state” is ambiguous. He added that the imposition of Islamic banking is the key to a flourishing Egyptian economy. The application of Islamic banking rules would only entail changing so-called "profit" structures, without fundamental changes to the conventional banking system now in place — except for a ban on investments in alcohol, gambling or anything else that is seen as forbidden by Islam.
"There is very little political awareness among the majority of Egyptians," claims Sanaa Abdel Rahman, a hairdresser who lives in a neighborhood around the pyramids. "When people voted for Salafi and Brotherhood candidates, they were supporting what they thought were religious elders and were unaware that these people would destroy their livelihood. Almost everyone in our neighborhood works in tourism, but they all voted for the Nour Party."
While bankers and tour guides spend sleepless nights over the financial implications of an Islamist state, women worry about being forced to cover their hair and stay out of restaurants and cafes where they would mix with men.
Perhaps the most controversial declarations have to do with the veil. A recent Nour Party advertisement claims that it would "never force women to wear the niqab," which covers the face as well as the hair. However, no mention is made of the headscarf, a fact which leaves open the possibility that the latter could be imposed by law. Other Salafi rulings have forbidden neck ties for men, as well as trousers for women, unless in the company of a husband, brothers or father.
Then there are those rumors about vigilante gangs who pretend to be something like the Saudi morality police:
Vigilante gangs of ultra-conservative Salafi men have been harassing shop owners and female customers in rural towns around Egypt for “indecent behavior,” according to reports in the Egyptian news media. But when they burst into a beauty salon in the Nile delta town of Benha this week and ordered the women inside to stop what they were doing or face physical punishment, the women struck back, whipping them with their own canes before kicking them out to the street in front of an astonished crowd of onlookers.
Modeling themselves after Saudi Arabia’s morality police as a “Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice,” the young men raided clothing and other retail shops around the Qalubiya province over New Year’s weekend declaring they were there to enforce Islamic law, according to the Tahrir News.
Shop owners were told they could no longer sell “indecent” clothing, barbers could no longer shave men’s beards, and that all retail businesses should expect regular and surprise inspections to check for compliance. Frightened customers were ordered to cover up and threatened with severe punishment if they did not abide by “God’s law on earth.”
But when the women in a Benha beauty salon stood up to the young Salafi enforcers, they found support on the streets as well as online, with one amused reader suggesting that women should be deputized to protect the revolution’s democratic values.
A wonderful ending to that story! Of course a government-sanctioned morality police could not be fought that way.

I cannot forecast the future, and much depends on how coalitions are going to be built within the new government. But the future is not rosy for those Egyptians who want equality between men and women.

A different aspect of the changes that the Nour party would support has to do with Egyptian tourism. As I have written before, tourism is an important industry in Egypt. If alcohol were to be completely banned and beach attire severely regulated, the number of tourists to Egypt would drop by a very large percentage. Introducing something like morality police or sex segregation in general would have an even stronger impact. Large problems in the tourism industry would increase unemployment and poverty in several areas of Egypt.

*The "meanwhile" denotes that the post will be about something nasty happening to women somewhere in the world.