2008: A Good Year For Egyptian Women

The year 2008 is over, and it’s been a mixed bag. Obama’s victory in the presidential race sparked hope around the world that might just carry us through to 2009. But the attacks on Mumbai and Gaza are casting long shadows over 2008, particularly for Muslims.

However, 2008 has been a particularly great year for Egyptian women, who saw a lot of firsts. Though everyone is anxious, even champing at the bit, for 2009, it’s important to remember where we’re coming from so we don’t end up here again. And, in these women’s cases, it’s important to remember the milestones they’ve made so that we don’t slide backward in our progress.

Egypt appeared in the news early in 2008 with stinging studies showing the widespread and unabashed sexual harassment and assault prevalent in Egyptian society. But in October, Noha Rushdie filed and won Egypt’s first sexual harassment case. In an interview with her, it’s evident that she faced a lot of cultural and even institutional opposition. Her bravery and determination in prosecuting her assailant invites Egyptian society to rethink harassment and could perhaps pave the way for other cases and judiciary rulings.

Also in October was the appointment of Egypt’s first female registrar, Amal Suleiman. She made history by performing her first marriage between two journalists: the groom was so anxious to make said history that he moved the wedding up an entire year (a difficult feat if you know how expensive and complicated Egyptian weddings can get).

The beginning of December saw the election of Egypt’s first female mayor, Eva Habil. From a country with pre-Islamic rulers such as Hatshepsut and Cleopatra, this isn’t much. But in a country that currently has only handful of Christian or Muslim women in politics (in the Shura Council, etc.), this is a big deal, and may serve as inspiration for other women to become more involved in politics.

And just last week, an Egyptian woman’s interpretation of the Qur’an was approved by Al Azhar University. Kariman Hamza isn’t the first woman to interpret the Qur’an, but she is the first to be approved by the Al Azhar crowd.

With all of these accomplishments, it’s doesn’t seem far-fetched to expect more for Egyptian women in 2009.