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In Egypt vote, Islamist influence grows

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In the Cairo electoral district of Nasser City, the Muslim Brotherhood's lone female candidate, Makarim Eldeiri, is focusing on family values and, of course, Islam in her campaign.

"Our message is that Islam is the solution, and this is a complete program for all aspects of government and family life," she says.

While it's no surprise that a Brotherhood candidate would stress Islam, what is worrying to many is the affect that her campaign has had on her opponent. Faced with a strong challenge from Ms. Eldeiri, the ruling party incumbent has responded by adopting "The Koran is the solution" as his slogan.

The phenomenon has repeated itself in other districts.

The ruling National Democratic Party nominated just two Coptic parliamentary candidates out of a total of 444 this year.

Though the government here downplays the Muslim-Copt divide, many argue that Egyptian society is more segregated and divided today than it was five, 10 or even 80 years ago. Last month's Muslim-Coptic riots in Alexandria, in which three people died and a nun was stabbed, highlighted tensions between the two communities.

"There is no desire to give the Copts representation in parliament and this is among the reasons that the Christian feel oppressed," says Milad Hana, a secular Coptic writer. "There is more and more a sectarian air within the ruling powers in Egypt."

The situation for women is equally grim, say women's rights activists. Though President Hosni Mubarak repeatedly stressed the empowerment of women during his reelection campaign earlier this year, his party has nominated just six women to compete for parliament. The alliance of opposition forces has nominated just seven. Both those numbers are down from 2000, when 11 women ran from the ruling party, and 22 from the opposition.

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