The withdrawal of Bothaina Kamel, the only female candidate vying for a place in Egypt’s presidential elections in May, did not come as a surprise to many. The former television presenter failed to gain enough signatures in order to register for candidacy, and she has said herself she knew from the beginning it would be difficult. But the fact that she stood at all could represent a new dawn in women’s participation in Egyptian politics.
Assistant professor of political science at Cairo University Amal Hamada thinks so. She believes that the campaign can have a positive outcome, despite its failure to gather enough support to run for the presidency.
“Bothaina Kamel made a very clear point, particularly in middle class circles, that women can’t be excluded from the political sphere because she fought to get the documents and she had a campaign. Even if she didn’t get the required number it doesn’t matter because it’s not about winning, it’s about fighting to be there,” said Hamada.
However, she believes the presidential race is not the real fight. “We need to correct the many limitations in politics,” she said. “We have a lot to fight and the presidency is at the bottom of the list.”
Certainly the presence of women in parliament has become rarer in recent years. With the introduction of a quota for female members of parliament in 2005, there were 64 women representatives, i.e. 12 percent of the total. But since it was abolished by the ruling military council after the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak, there are now just nine.
The huge dominance of men in the political realm does not reflect the participation of women in Egyptian public life, nor their significant role in the revolution. However the Salafist Nour party, which holds nearly a quarter of the seats in parliament, says that Islam forbids political participation for women.
Kamel’s presidential bid brought her criticism from some Islamist members of parliament and she says she has received death threats. However, in a post on her Facebook page on her withdrawal from the presidency she wrote: “I was determined to defend the right of my sex to aspire to the highest posts.”
A spokesperson for her campaign told Al Arabiya English that they “have had many successes, the campaign did not fail.”
He added that they consider the support they received from the poor an important achievement.
On her Facebook page, the former television presenter wrote that the months of the campaign had been the “absolute finest of [her] life.”
Kamel also pledged to continue the fight against corruption. She said, “I will be watching the elections closely and will fight against fraud.”
“The Egyptian woman has proven herself in the long history of leadership struggles in the face of darkness, intolerance and ignorance,” she wrote. “And I am a small part of that heritage.”