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Egypt: women at the forefront for change

Dr Mona Mina
Crossing Continents
Thursday, 20 March 2008
At 1102 GMT on BBC Radio 4

Crossing Continents travels to Egypt meeting remarkable women fighting for their rights in a male dominated society.

Two years on from Condoleezza Rice's visit to Egypt in 2005 when she challenged the Egyptians to "lead and define a democratic future", reporter Bill Law finds out what, if anything, has changed?

He hears stories from Egyptian women who are fighting against female circumcision, the suppression and imprisonment of internet bloggers, poor pay and for workers rights.

In 2005, Egypt under pressure from the United States of America, held its first presidential election. It was won by Hosni Mubarak, amidst widespread allegations of vote rigging.

Gameela Ismail
Gameela Ismael campaigns for her husbands release from prison
Subsequently, the only other presidential candidate Ayman Noor, was thrown in jail and remains there today in ill health with no indication as to when he will be released. It has been left to his wife, the former television presenter, Gameela Ismail to carry on the struggle for democracy and her husband's freedom.

In the face of constant state intimidation and the loss of her livelihood, Gameela Ismail continues to speak out.

"It is very hard, for women to take a stand in this police state. Every day is like a small war."

Change

Dalia Ziada
Validate women and you validate the whole society
Dalia Ziada, blogger
Dalia Ziada is a 26 year old activist and blogger who speaks out against the practice of female circumcision, having been circumcised herself. In Egypt it is estimated that over 90 % of the female population are circumcised.

Dalia says the key to change is "to change the mentality of Arab women".

But bloggers who question accepted religious practices are often threatened and Dalia has been accused of being a spy for the CIA.

Dalia is also campaigning for the release of Ayman Noor and fellow blogger Kareem Amer sentenced to four years in jail - three for insulting Islam and one for insulting the president.

The road to real democracy, Dalia believes, lies through women's rights.

"Validate women and you validate the whole society."

That is brave talk in a country and a region where, as the 2005 UNDP Arab Human Development Report states

"In all cases, real decisions in the Arab world are, at all levels, in the hands of men"

BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents was broadcast on Thursday, 20 March 2008 at 1102 GMT. It was repeated on Monday, 24 March 2008 at 2030 GMT.

Reporter: Bill Law
Producer: Daniel Tetlow


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