«Egypt cannot manage without us women»
This interview is discussed by Francesco Aloisi de Larderel, former Italian ambassador to Egypt, in the article "The Muslim Brotherhood's New Challenges".
“Egypt has entered a new phase, one that cannot be managed without us women. All Egyptian women are now asked to work for the good of the country” said Dina Zakaria, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a representative of the Freedom and Justice Party, the newly-created party linked to the conservative Islamic Party. “In my family of origin there were no members of the Muslim Brotherhood. I decided on my own to join this movement while I was at university. I wanted to approach Islam with sincerity. At the time I would never have dreamt that I would become the Freedom and Justice representative in Brussels,” explained Dina in her perfect English. Twenty-seven years old with a degree in Political Science and two children, in July Dina was the spokesperson for the Freedom and Justice conference organised by the European parliament for all Egypt’s new political representatives.
After the fall of Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood has become Egypt’s main political party. And yet, on the eve of the January 25th protests, the movement’s leadership asked members not to take to the streets in the party’s name. Did it not believe in the power of these protests?
The movement asked us not to take to the streets as representing the Ikhwan (the Muslim Brotherhood Editor’s Note) but they did not oblige us to refrain from protesting. No one could have imagined the effects of the January 25th protests; no one used the word revolution at the time. I felt optimistic from the very start, but I understood the Muslim Brotherhood’s motivations. The movement did not want the security forces, which for years had fully controlled all our movements and phone calls, to intercept messages that could have caused the protests to fail. If we had announced that we would attend the protests as the Muslim Brotherhood, the police would have ordered a mass mobilisation and there would have been a massacre.
In this revolution men and women fought side by side. Is this the sign of a less patriarchal society? Of course, but we still have a long way to go. Our culture, and not our religion, leads us to show particular attention and care regards to women. At the same time, within the family unit, women know they must help their husbands when they have problems, and that they are responsible for bringing up and educating their children. These ideas have to a certain extent changed in the past decade, seeing the problems in everyday life that have obliged women to work. Due to financial problems, having a job has become a necessity while it was once a choice. Hence, leaving the home and going to their offices, women started to compare themselves to others, and also to men, beginning to understand society’s problems. Our perspective changed and therefore, when a new generation of young people decided to protest, there was no difference between men and women. This was an evolution for Egyptian society, but for those of us who belong to the Brotherhood things have been different.
Because within this movement we women have always played an important role and have also been active in organizing street protests demanding the fall of the regime. For years we fought for the causes of Egypt’s poorer classes and also for the Palestinian issue. It is our duty to do this. We must be active because our religion asks as to be optimistic and creative, at the service of those in need. In this there is no difference with men. Men and women are equal in the eyes of our God, there is no difference.
And yet, as women, the movement’s leadership asked you not to take part in the January 25th protests. Why?
We were asked, with good cause, not to protest in the streets for two reasons. If as women we had attended the protest event, we would have been instantly recognized as Ikhwan. We are the only ones who wear this kind of hijab (the veil that covers the head leaving the face uncovered, Editor’s Note) which also covers the shoulders. They did not want to provide the regime with an opportunity to say that the protests were led by religious movements. This was the uprising of all Egyptians and not only the Ikhwan. Furthermore, as women, our leaders wanted to protect us and this has always happened in the history of our movement. When we attended protests many of us were arrested and thrown in prison. Our men have always been very careful not to expose us excessively precisely for this reason, but now everything has changed. There is less to fear and our role will become increasingly clear.
Will women have more power in this new Egypt?
Of course, that is obvious, and it will happen in all the various areas in which women are involved. Egypt in 2011 is a very different country compared to 2010. Our people know they can implement change, that they have power, that they can make sacrifices to reconstruct the country destroyed by the old regime. Everyone knows they have a role to play, a social role if not a political one. As a mother I have a new role to play with my children, I must bring them up in this new country to prepare them to be active citizens, to fight for the rights of the more needy, against corruption and for the country’s freedom. Being a mother used to be different, one did not think one had a role in determining the country’s future and many women thought their children’s lives were already mapped out.
And what about unmarried women?
Unmarried women too are preparing to play a leading role. They will be able to actively take part in the country’s political life because they have the time to do this. They should stop being afraid of being women and understand they are equal to men and try and be active on the streets among the people and in the reconstruction of the country. The new period will be very complex and we need to try and be ready and active because, in the coming months, there will be many difficult issues to be addressed. The revolution was only the beginning of a long and difficult transition.
Translated by Francesca Simmons