CAIRO, 9 March 2005 — A recent fatwa (edict) by former mufti of Egypt, Nasr Farid Wasel, stating that women cannot run for presidential elections has prompted angry responses from human rights activists and public figures in the country.
“It is not allowed in Islam that a woman can become a president of a state,” said Farid Wasel. “All the great Islamic scholars had agreed on that ...women are not fit for this tough, magnificent task.”
Ali Gomaa, mufti of Egypt and head of Dar Al-Iftaa — the body responsible for overseeing interpretations and fatwas at Al Azhar — said Wasel’s statement should not be considered an official fatwa because official fatwas are only issued by Dar Al-Iftaa.
However, Gomaa who is well-known for being outspoken, and a sheikh with a secular education, said he supported Wasel’s viewpoint, saying “women cannot perform that role because of some physical considerations.” He added “for instance, the woman finds some difficulties to pursue her work ... the woman also has her family and children that she has to take care of. These are big responsibilities.”
Human rights activists have greeted Gomaa’s statement with protests, saying gender should not be taken as a measure of deciding who is fit and who is not fit for presidency. “The issue is not about who is a male and who is a female; we should decide on the abilities, experience, morals, talents and the psychological abilities to take right decisions in the right time,” said activist Muhammad Al-Ghazali.
“Our Arab history shows that there were some women who were more capable to rule than men and who had great abilities to make decisions that benefited their countries,” Ghazali told Arab News.
Ghazali added that ruling a country does not depend now on a single person. “Now we have advisers, supervisors and assistants for any president in the world so the woman will not rule the country on her own,” he added.
Women’s groups and Socialist activists said the latest statements by both Wasel and Gomaa stand an obstacle before the government’s campaign to grant Egyptian women all their political and social rights. Egypt has previously appointed the country’s first female judge, Tahani Al-Gibali, suggesting that more women judges could be soon appointed.
“If we look at all the posts women held in Egypt until today we will find that they are very competitive and able to do all required tasks. In many organizations and authorities women have succeeded in holding high positions,” said Nahed Aboul Qumsan, chairwoman of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights. “The problem ahead of us is giving women more freedom and we should encourage them to become members of political parties and they should aim to achieve remarkable political activities,” she pointed out.
Aboul Qumsan explained that it would be also a long time before activists manage to convince the conservatives in Egypt that women have the efficiency to participate in the presidential race.
Surprisingly, Muhammad Sayeed Tantawi, grand sheikh of Al-Azhar, the highest Sunni authority in Egypt, said that he is not responsible for Wasel’s fatwa and he does not agree with any of Al-Azhar’s member who does not acknowledge women their political rights. “I’m not against those who do not give women their rights. Any Muslim, mature woman has the right to elect and be elected even for very high posts,” Tantawi stressed.
A few Al-Azhar scholars maintained that a woman can become a president if she puts limits in her work relationship with men. “Women are allowed to hold that post if they do not have any physical contact with men working with her such as shaking hands, etc.,” said Abdalla Mughawer, a senior member of Dar Al-Iftaa.
Nawal Al-Saadawi, the first female announced her intension to join the presidential race, told Arab News that the latest argument will not put her off from continuing her plan.