Egypt Muslim sisters rise with conservative vision

CAIRO — The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt has brought with it a new group of female politicians who say they are determined to bring more women into leadership roles — and at the same time want to consecrate a deeply conservative Islamic vision for women in Egypt.

Women’s rights have sprung to the forefront of the debate in Egypt as members of an Islamist-dominated assembly wrestle over the writing of a new constitution for the country.

The power of Islamists, who dominated parliament elections last winter and who seized the presidency with the election this year of the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, has worried secular and liberal Egyptians who fear they will restrict rights of women and minorities.

The women of the Brotherhood say the group is doing more than any other political movement in Egypt to promote women in a political scene where men have always held a near total monopoly.

Confident and articulate, the women say they are pushing for a greater voice within the Brotherhood itself and its political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, where the leadership is entirely male.

The number of women in prominent positions in Egyptian politics remains tiny, as it was under the ousted secular president, Hosni Mubarak. But in the new Egypt, if a woman does hold a high post, she is most likely a member of an Islamist group.

Morsi has appointed three women — two of them Islamists — to his 21-member team of advisers and aides. Of the six women on the 100-member assembly writing the constitution, three are Brotherhood members.

Their vision is a world apart from that of liberal women’s rights activists, who fear that Islamist women in power will only carry out the Brotherhood agenda of implementing its interpretation of Islamic law.

Azza Al Garf, one of the Brotherhood women on the constitution-writing panel, said the “first” role of women in Egypt is “inside the family, as a wife and mother”, while politics or work comes second.

“Women are responsible for raising the new generation … this means the future of Egypt is in our hands,” she told AP.

Garf, a 47-year-old mother of seven, said that a woman’s role in her family need not contradict with her participation in politics, saying that she balances these two responsibilities.

Garf joined the Brotherhood when she was 15 and has done social work and community organising for the group

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