The turn-out in Egypt’s recent elections set a new standard. Compared to previous, single-figure turn-outs some 70% of the population, both male and female, turned out to choose their new President. Maybe it is not so surprising, then, that the results gave a choice between the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi, under the banner of their political front the Freedom and Justice Party, and an old hand and ex-Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafiq.
While these two choices may seem worlds apart, the one thing that unites them, and evidently unites the Egyptian people who have to choose between them, is the stated need for change. The need to move on, create jobs and employment, and give more freedom to the populace.
In an interesting lecture published recently on TED, Dalia Mogahed, an Egyptian-born, American Muslim pollster and analyst, talks about the attitudes in Egypt, and the surrounding countries, which fueled the Arab Spring. She also highlighted something very important bearing in mind the current Western views on Muslim women as potentially marginalised, told not to work or go out, and forbidden from receiving an education due to the supposed backward views for their men-folk.
Whilst it may be true than in some countries there are major issues relating to equality of the sexes, what Dalia highlighted is that this does not correlate with religion. Or even with religious sects. It correlates with the level of education of men, how secure the men’s jobs are, and the unemployment rate. In countries with low unemployment, Muslim men are happy for their women to go out to work, secure in the knowledge that they are still the providers, and it is mostly seen as appropriate. When the men feel their jobs, and therefore their role as providers, to be under threat, they are more conservative, and I suspect that these views are not limited to Muslim populations. It would be interesting to carry out a similar survey in the Western world affected by the current recession.
If, as hoped, the new Egyptian president can supply jobs and reduce male unemployment, the women of Egypt may yet set the trend, and an example and inspiration for their neighbours and Muslim women around the world. What Egypt wants and needs is stability, education and employment, whether that is through religious or secular leadership. Hopefully it will receive all three.