Egypt: Activists ask: "Where are the women?"


The lack of women on a committee charged with amending Egypt's constitution for elections post-Mubarak casts doubt over whether the country can develop into a true democracy, a group of activists said on Wednesday. The group of over 60 non-governmental organisation and activists said the committee, which is presided over by a respected retired judge known for his independence, had begun work on Wednesday by "marginalising female legal experts".

"This sheds doubt over the future of democratic transition in Egypt and raises questions about the future of participation, and whether this revolution sought to liberate all of society or just some of its sectors," a statement said.

Mass demonstrations that ousted President Hosni Mubarak from his 30-year rule were led by both men and women.

"We affirm that Egyptian woman participated in the revolution, and proof of such is that many remain missing or arrested. They have every right to participate in building the Egyptian nation," the group said in a statement sent by Nahed Shehata of the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights.

Protesters have demanded several changes, including making presidential races fair and putting limits on a president's term in office. Mubarak served almost five six-year terms and had been expected to seek a sixth.

The committee is due to propose its changes within 10 days as a prelude to parliamentary and presidential elections due to take place in six months.


The committee includes one senior Muslim Brotherhood legal expert in an unprecedented move to include the Islamist opposition group, but the panel did not give details on how it selected its members.

"Signatures to this statement have received with great concern the list of committee members as there is no participation from female experts, which is unacceptable marginalisation of half of society," the statement said.

"We also question the standards used to select the members of the committee," the group said, although adding they supported the military's efforts in moving to a democracy.

The role of women in Egyptian politics has been limited, with few occupying ministerial and parliamentary seats. Their role in the judiciary has been the subject of wide debate in recent years.

Last year, a top court ruled that women should be allowed to serve on the State Council, a court that tries cases involving the government and which had resisted including female judges.

Mubarak appointed Tahany el-Gibali, Egypt's first woman judge, to the Constitutional Court in 2003. Conservative judges campaigned to stop what they regarded as an exception from becoming a trend.

Activists called on the Higher Military Council to revisit "values of citizenship" and asked that female experts be incorporated in the constitutional committee. (editing by Elizabeth Piper)


By Dina Zayed

Thomson Reuters 2011