Looking at Egypt’s First Female Mayor
Date posted: December 20, 2008
Eva Habil, a 53 year-old Christian lawyer, became Egypt’s first female mayor on December 14, representing Komboha, a rural town in conservative Upper Egypt with a Coptic majority community. Yusra of Muslimah Media Watch wrote:
Habil, whose father was mayor of Komboha, beat out five male candidates, including her younger brother. Why mention she’s Christian? Well, because in this same story, a niqabi who came out to congratulate Habil was asked if she’d ever pursue politics. She didn’t even have time to answer before her husband said he wouldn’t let her.
While it is true that Egyptian women, regardless of their religion, struggle to break into politics, Muslim women have an added burden: that of jahiliyah. If Komboha were a small, traditional Muslim town in Egypt, the fellaheen would never allow a woman to accept a leadership role in politics. It would be socially unjustifiable and she’d be pressured to step down. This is a difference in religious culture. Habil not only could accept the position, but she could talk to the locals wearing jeans and a snug sweater. Imagine the outrage that would follow if a woman in a traditional Muslim town, such as Siwa, 50 km from Libya’s border, left the house without covering up from head to toe. However, does this mean that Muslim women in Egyptian villages view Habil’s election differently than Christian women in Egyptian villages? I doubt it, and the niqabi woman mentioned in the article is proof that Habil’s victory is a victory for women, both Christian and Muslim.
Habil’s leadership position is a boost of empowerment for women in Komboha and in a country where only nine female lawmakers serve in the 454-seat parliament, but it does very little to question deeply entrenched attitudes about women throughout the country. Still, it does remind us that regardless of their difference in religion, Egyptian women share the same struggle when it comes to paving political careers.
True to her Egyptian nationalism, Habil says religion should not serve to divide communities. “We must, first and foremost, proclaim ourselves Egyptians.”
Habil is my mom’s age. She went to Ain Shams University in Cairo, at the same time my mom attended teaching college in Tripoli, Libya, They both grew up wearing mini skirts and travelling alone. By the 1980s, they both saw their societies become more and more conservative. Blame it on the1979 Iranian Revolution or the empowered Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or the policies of Muammar al Qaddafi, but in the 1980s, Islamic conservatism swept the Middle East and the mini skirt was replaced by the headscarf and galabiyah. To compete, Egypt’s Christians openly displayed their faith as well. Habil says the women in her town wore huge crosses to set themselves apart. Habil and the other 10 percent of Copts in her generation lived through the same political, social and cultural changes. They are united in that change, even if it does not manifest itself in exactly the same way.
On the same event, from a political stance, Zeinobia wrote:
Overall from outside it is a huge victory to the feminist movement in Egypt but if you look inside you think that in the end it is not a real change. Eva Habil is from the young stars who impressed President Mubarak in the NDP this year with their new thinking. Yes she is a NDPian and heads the women's committee in her governorate and you know what I mean when I say that she is a NDPian. Already I do not consider her young for she is 53 years old !! Well they consider Gamal Mubarak a young man up till now !! Eva Habil is the daughter of the last mayor who already inherited from his father so it runs in the family. She was appointed by the Ministry of Interior. Yes there were 5 other men running for the same position but she was chosen and I think it was because of her position in the NDP at the first place. I see it with all my respect as another form of political inheritance. I would have considered Eva Habil as a real rule-breaker in Upper Egypt if she were not a member in the NDP, from a regular family that is not related to the Mayor from near or far. I would have considered her as an icon in the history of Egypt if she were elected just like in all the civilized the countries not appointed and not appointed by the Ministry of Interior. Here is the AFP report about her and I do not like the fact they inserted the religion into the topic, of course the reporter missed her NDP connection.