Freedom House on Egyptian women

Abu Aardvark mentioned this study on women in Egypt [PDF] a few days ago. While he highlighted the bit about how the study finds no one reads, listens or watches US-sponsored Arabic media (no big surprises there) I found the next finding more telling:

Women’s political rights: a hollow equality. Women have equal rights to vote and participate in political debates, most Egyptians say. Exercising these rights does not matter, because they see political rights as meaningless in Egypt’s current political system. Many Egyptians see formal politics as an elite game and view debates among political leaders as irrelevant to their lives and concerns. Few Egyptians say that they have ever voted in elections. Reasons cited for not participating in formal politics include not seeing a direct impact on their lives, perceptions of electoral fraud and cheating, and bureaucratic inefficiencies making it difficult to obtain voter identification cards.


Frankly, this does not only to apply to women, but to roughly everywhere in Egypt. In my district in central Cairo, which have hundreds of thousands of highly educated Egyptians living in it, less than 5000 people voted in the 2000 parliamentary elections. The apathy will continue as long as politicians do not offer real practical alternatives.

The other notable finding was:

Concerns about shortcomings in Egypt’s schools. The general public in Egypt sees education as the most important right for women, but they worry that Egypt’s public schools are not up to the task. Several Egyptians issue harsh critiques of the current education system, saying that teachers are poorly trained and schools are ill equipped. Many complain about having to pay teachers for private lessons so their children can pass exams, a payment that several view as bribery for a basic entitlement.


Until about two years ago, money assigned to education under the USAID program in Egypt was shrinking fast and scheduled to be re-assigned elsewhere altogether. The biggest item on the budget was for the commodity import program, which essentially provides support to banks lending money to importers buying American goods. The Bush administration has somewhat slowed down the shift away from education, which was good, but this is by no means safe for the future. Interfering in another country's education system is a controversial thing to do, of course, but USAID and other organization should be able to do their utmost to support serious educational reform. That would offer an opportunity for some real reform as well as fulfill a laudable US policy objective towards the Arab world. The responsibility for the state of education in Egypt of course lies with the government, but this is one area where we should not be afraid to offer our help, even if it is at the expense of American exports.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.