Interviewed March 8, 2012
Samar El Hussieny grew up in a politically oriented family in Egypt. Her father was a socialist opposition politician. She studied political science and has worked in the human rights field since 2005. She participated in several student awareness activities for youth during her college years and has been active in various civil society projects concerning human rights education, election monitoring and minority rights. She is a Program Officer at the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies and is pursuing a master's degree in political science.
Samar has been an activist in the Egyptian Revolution that began on January 25, 2011. She continues to work to promote freedom and support democracy during her country's transitional period. Samar has also been intensively engaged on initiatives related to elections in Egypt. In addition to monitoring elections and the political process, she is involved in projects relating to minority rights, social media, and transitional justice in Egypt. Samar seeks to support reform movements and non-violent revolutions in the Arab World and beyond.
Samar was among the inaugural group of the George W. Bush Institute's Women's Initiative Fellowship Program in 2012, a leadership program designed to empower and equip women to catalyze change.
Samar hopes to be elected to national office and is planning to run for President of Egypt one day.
In the civil society community, it’s very usual to have women and to have them participating effectively, and they’re well-empowered, I think. But in the overall community, the Egyptian community, you find very low standards of women representation.
We have this balance – we have 50/50 percent women and men. And also when you go deeper, to the lower classes in Egypt, we find women oppressed. We will find them uneducated. And we’ll find them having problems with their families. They are not independent financially or even socially. But in the civil society field, this is kind of a very normal way, that women are there, mostly because most of us are coming from political oriented – political oriented families, so we are well-educated somehow, we are having a good knowledge and we have access to different practices around the world. We have this kind of awareness that enable us to go and participate and have our own vision and ideas about the future.
And in the – less than 2 percent in the parliament. And the – in the committee that’s supposed to write the constitution, it’s 3 percent – percentage, which is – it’s not right at all, actually. It’s kind of exclusion. We’re not there. And even the number of the women who are there in the parliament, they are not empowered. It’s just kind of having this decoration for the parliament to have 10 women or less. And also, two of them are assigned. They are not elected.
And during the election itself – during the elections you will find some of the political parties, they had women in their lists. And they made a press conference for all of these women. And one of the women who are supposed to go and run for the office, she said I believe that women shouldn’t run for office, and I believe that women – they are not well – they has – they doesn’t have a complete mind. Their lack of experience and their lack of mentality to go and run for office is something that men only can do.
We have different barriers. We kind of started with women themselves, they are not well confident that they can go and run for office. And we have another barrier concerns the culture in the society, that hardly accept a woman which is well-accomplished and is well-educated. And they will just say, OK, maybe you can just stay at home. And the third – the third one would be that people will not go and vote for women, maybe because of the culture ideas and also maybe because of the – some of the economic problems that women – some of the people in Egypt will think that if there is a woman who are going out and work, maybe a man can go and work.
But I do think that if we can do something concerns the culture part, this can solve the problem, because people will just understand that there is no kind of discrimination. We are all equal. And if a man can do something, woman also can do it. And you think when you find a very good model of womans or woman in the society, or even from the outside communities, which is well-accomplished, and you can present them to society; they will accept it. And they will try to interact with her.
With a history dating back to the 10th millennium B.C., Egypt has long played a central role in the Middle East. Egypt is the largest Arab nation and has an influential voice in Arabic and Middle Eastern culture. Egypt has a diverse economy, but has struggled to create sustained economic growth and opportunities for its population of 84 million people.
The country has little experience with representative democracy. From 1956 to 1970, President Gamal Abdel Nasser ruled Egypt with a strong hand, nationalizing the Suez Canal and taking the country into conflict with the new state of Israel. Upon his death, Anwar al-Sadat became president. Together with other Arab nations, Sadat launched the October War against Israel in 1973. In 1979, Sadat signed a groundbreaking peace treaty with Israel.
From Sadat’s assassination in 1981 until the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, Egypt was governed by President Hosni Mubarak. For all of Mubarak’s time in office, and for much of the time since his resignation, Egypt has been under “Emergency Law,” which allows the government to suspend constitutional rights, including limiting political activity and restricting free speech. Emergency Law also allows the government to use summary arrests against political opponents.
For four successive terms, Mubarak was reelected in referenda without an opponent. In 2005, under domestic and international pressure, Mubarak proposed a constitutional amendment to allow Egypt’s first multicandidate presidential elections. Because the amendment would have imposed severe restrictions on the eligibility of opposition candidates, opposition groups boycotted the vote. Mubarak claimed to have won the September 2005 presidential election with an official 88 percent of the vote, amid widespread allegations of fraud and vote rigging. The main opposition leader, Ayman Nour, was subsequently prosecuted by the government for forging signatures on petitions and was sentenced to five years in prison, provoking protests from the United States and other democratic countries.
Following the example of the Tunisian Revolution, large protests swept Egypt in early 2011. The military, led by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), withdrew its support of Mubarak. On February 11, 2011, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had resigned. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) headed by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi then assumed power in Egypt. SCAF dissolved the parliament and suspended the constitution.
In November 2011, Egypt held parliamentary elections that were reportedly fair and democratic. In June 2012, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi was elected President, in part because liberal and secular forces failed to coalesce around a single candidate. Morsi’s popularity declined as he declared his orders immune from challenge, removed judicial review processes, and was accused of taking steps towards the implementation of Islamist policies. Conflict arose between those supporting Islamist policies and those seeking a more liberal and secular government. Protests occurred throughout his presidency until Morsi was ousted by the military in July 2013. Muslim Brotherhood leaders were arrested and their camps and offices raided. Until new elections are held, a SCAF-installed provisional government led by acting President Adly Mansour is in control.
In its most recent report, the independent watchdog group Freedom House classifies Egypt as “partly free.” On its scale where 1 is the most free and 7is the least free, Egypt earned scores of 5 in both the civil liberties and political rights categories.