Since taking power as Egypt’s President in 2014, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has declared his support for Egyptian women on multiple occasions, emphasising the importance of equal rights and women’s empowerment for Egypt’s development. Al-Sisi’s feminist stance soon proved to be more of a strategy to harness women’s support against the Muslim Brotherhood than a genuine commitment to gender equality. The regime’s narrative blatantly contradicts its actual poor record on women’s rights, as documented by feminist organisations and international mechanisms.
The new draft of the personal status law is the latest example of the government’s contempt for women’s rights. It deprives women of their legal status to conclude a marriage contract or claim guardianship of their children. The draft law caused an uproar in the country, and on 13 March, the Women and Memory Forum launched a campaign to denounce the bill using the hashtag #guardianship_myright.
The Egyptian government does not tolerate any form of feminism but its own. The National Council for Women (NCW) is the official government entity tasked with empowering women and ending discrimination. However, the NCW only offers very limited support for feminist organisations that are facing numerous obstacles. Women’s rights organisations, such as Nazra for Feminist Studies and the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA) had their assets frozen and their leaders banned from travelling. This is a tactic the government uses to prevent them from speaking up about the situation of women’s rights in Egypt. Nazra’s director, Mozn Hassan, recently described the hardship of the feminist struggle in Egypt in EuroMed Rights’ podcast.
Women rights’ defenders face abject hostility in al-Sisi’s Egypt. Egyptian women frequently use social media to denounce gender-based violence and end up being silenced by the government. Human rights defender Amal Fathy was arrested in June 2018 for posting a video on Facebook criticising the authorities’ inaction in the fight against sexual harassment. In 2020, three TikTok influencers were sentenced to jail for violating “family values” and “publishing sexually provocative videos” after having sung and danced on the network. Lastly, in February 2021, female journalist and human rights defender Solafa Magdy reported harassment and assault by police officers while imprisoned. Her claims were not investigated. In short, observers should not be fooled: the Egyptian state’s feminist discourse is merely a diplomatic tool to attract international support.