Year of the Egyptian Woman

Michael Barak analyzes the campaign on Egyptian social media to improve their status.
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"Are you an older, single woman"?
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"Are you an older, single woman"?



In March, three events related to women took place in Egypt, including International Women’s Day, Egyptian Women’s Day, and Mother’s Day,[1] which sparked a lively debate on social networking sites (SNS), especially among women, about the status of women under the regime of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The discourse is characterized by cautious optimism in light of the regime’s willingness to promote the issue, along with a certain degree of pessimism about the discriminatory treatment of women in Egyptian society, and the effort required to bring about a change in consciousness.

President al-Sisi declared 2017 the “Year of Egyptian Women.” The stated goals for the year include implementation of a national strategic plan to empower women in Egypt, encouraging their integration into government and civil institutions, and enhancing social awareness about their contribution to economic growth, thereby improving society and national development. The year 2030 was set as the target year, by which women are meant to have been integrated into all areas of employment, including decision-making. On March 16, Egyptian Women’s Day, al-Sisi declared the importance of the plan for the prosperity of Egypt and pledged to allocate 250 million Egyptian pounds for this purpose.[2]

Several official online campaigns were launched as part of the effort to empower women in Egypt, the most prominent “al-Ta al-Marbouta [the suffix that marks Arabic nouns and adjectives as feminine] the Secret of Your Power” [3] was launched in October 2016. It is a joint effort of the National Council for Women in Egypt[4] and the UN Women’s Network.[5] Its videos, interviews and other materials on the contribution of women to Egyptian society have been viewed 15 million times to date.[6] For example, they highlighted the appointment of Nadia Abdu as governor of the Beheira district, which made her the first female governor in Egyptian history. In this and other campaigns, there has been an attempt to combat phenomena such as female circumcision, [7]gender-based violence, and sexual harassment against women. [8]Most Egyptian MPs support the campaign, which has been praised by many women who attribute this achievement to al-Sisi.

In contrast to the praise that women and men share for the Egyptian president’s contribution to the struggle for the advancement of the status of women in the country, female supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood have continued discourse condemning the regime. They claim that al-Sisi’s position is illusory, pretending as if he promotes women’s rights, while in practice he oppresses women’s freedom of expression and denies their rights. They also claim that the status of women in Egypt has deteriorated since Morsi’s ouster in 2013. On the Facebook page “Women against the Revolution,” female supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood collected propaganda materials including pictures of detained women and documentation of women’s demonstrations against the regime.

An example of a real change credited to the struggle for the advancement of the status of Egyptian women was a large-scale protest campaign launched on March 6 against advertising posters displayed by an Egyptian company on the streets of Cairo to sell bottles of oil. One of them shows a woman with a bowed head and the caption: “Are you an older single woman [`a’anis]?” The poster asked older, single women to share their feelings and difficulties using the tag “You are the example.” [9]Users of SNS accused the company of contempt for single women.[10] Several wondered why the campaign did not focus on the increase in the number of unmarried men. Others emphasized that male society in Egypt should change its judgmental position vis-à-vis older, single women and that offensive terms against women, like “`a’anis should be removed from the discourse. Another user commented that the marketing campaign expresses “a cultural collapse that constitutes a threat to [Egyptian] society, more than a military defeat.” In response to the protest, the head of the Society for the Protection of Consumer Rights ordered the immediate removal of the offensive signs on the grounds that they contained inflammatory and antagonistic messages in contravention of the Consumer Protection Law. The company itself issued an apology, but clarified that the campaign’s goal was to combat prejudice against women. [11]

Another network campaign was launched on March 24, focusing on the struggle against the sexual harassment of women in Egypt. The campaign was initiated by a group of students from the Higher Institute of Dramatic Art, who uploaded photographs taken by Egyptian photographer Marwa Ragheb to protest the silence of Egyptian society in the face of the disturbing phenomenon. On her Facebook page, Rajab claimed, “the reason [for harassment] is not clothing or visual, the reason is not my being part of society, your silence can be the reason ... your silence [encourages] sexual harassment.”[12]

In conclusion, it is clear that Egyptian women view‎ SNS as an important platform for their empowerment, as a means for managing the struggle to change their status, and a channel for raising awareness of their contributions to society - a trend that is supported by the government. This struggle is not restricted to SNS alone, but also manages to spill over into the real world and influence the public space. This is made clear by the pressure on commercial entities to carefully consider offensive messages against women, as well as decision-makers who are increasingly willing to listen to online protests from the public. Simultaneously, the Muslim Brotherhood supports attempts to create an alternative discourse in which the Egyptian government’s support for women is presented as politically motivated with the goal of broadening their base of popular support and without any real intention to improve the status of women in Egypt.



[1] #اليوم_العالمي_للمرأة

[3] #التاء_المربوطة; #سر_قوتك

[4] Link to the organization’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ncwegyptpage

[5] Link to the organization’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/unwomenegypt

[6] al-Watan, March 16, 2017.

[7] #كفاية_ختان_بنات; #ختان_البنات_جريمة; #لا_للختان; #اليوم_العالمي_لمكافحة_ختان_الإناث; #ضد_ختان_الإناث

[8] UnfpaEgypt, Facebook

[10] According to a government survey in 2016, there are currently 44 million women living in Egypt, of whom 13 million are of marriageable age but have not yet married.

[11] maya.morsy.370, Facebook, 7 March 2017:  al-Mwatin, 7 March 2017. 

[12] MarwaraghebPhotography, Facebook

#سكوتك_تحرش