Could This Woman Be Egypt's Next President?

Whether or not Bothaina Kamel wins, her candidacy could shatter misconceptions and traditional attitudes about the role of women

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Bothaina Kamel at a Cairo rally / Facebook

While many observers have spent the past few months arguing over the presidential candidacies of Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei, Amr Moussa, Dr. Abdel Monem Abul Fotouh, and even Dr. Selim El Awwa, among others, there is one candidate with 764 fans on her Facebook Supporters' page (compared to ElBaradei's 142,000), who seems to have fallen off the public's radar in Egypt and the West. Ironically, she happens to be the candidate whom I find to be one of the most (if not the most) significant of all.

In early April, Bothaina Kamel, a female television presenter and media figure, announced that she would run for the office of the presidency. In a society where the idea of a woman leading a country, the judiciary, or serving any similar role is discouraged by both culture and religion (indeed, it is often outright banned), the presence of a woman in elections stirs up strong reactions from the public. A cursory glance at the news articles that have mentioned her after she declared her candidacy feature such statements as: "Are we so out of men that we would be run by a woman?", "The forces of Masonic liberal secular atheism are at work again!", "we don't want her deviously inciting our women to forget their role as mother and wife!", and many more of the sort. In fact, quite a few hardline Islamic websites that adopt a strict interpretation of the Hadith that says: "People led by a woman will never succeed," feature commentators calling for mutinies and civil disobedience if Kamel, or any other woman for that matter, wins the presidency or even the office of vice president or prime minister.

But unlike every single time an unknown activist or some adjunct professor decides to make a "symbolic run" in some Arab country, Kamel's candidacy carries more weight than many observe, even though she has no realistic chance of winning.

What makes Kamel's position unique is manifold. First, she enjoys instant recognition on a national level as a result of her career as a public figure. Second, she has the proper opposition credentials stemming from her longtime membership of the Kefaya! Movement. Third, throughout her tenure with Orbit TV, she expressed a fair share of criticism aimed at the Mubarak administration and its figures, while continuing during (and after) the revolution to play an active role in exposing biases in the official state media. Moreover, Kamel was one of the first to break from the taboo of criticizing the SCAF in the media, and was summoned for investigation by the military only to be released shortly thereafter. Since then, she has adopted a more prominent and confrontational attitude toward the SCAF--a rarity among presidential candidates--most of whom seek ties with (if not the full approval of) the Council.

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