Taking an example from Golda
Photo: Herman Hanita, GPO
Even though her prospects are not promising, Bothaina Kamel has no intention of quitting.
The first female presidential candidate in Egypt’s history is a big-mouthed celebrity who comes from the media world. She intensively tours the large cities and towns, meeting with Muslims, Copts and Sinai’s Bedouins and doing everything to secure the sought-after job. While doing so she is active on Facebook and Twitter, calling herself “Basboussa” (a traditional Egyptian cake.) The campaign slogan, “I am Egypt,” is catchy and promises to bring “justice, freedom and social equality.”
When Kamel announced in April that she was running for president, thousands of eyebrows were raised. Many were amazed by her original initiative, while others attempted to repress her “cheeky” energies. “She must understand that a woman cannot do it,” said one of the candidates running against her, Munir Saad. “Egypt is a tough country with many problems. One need’s a man’s mind to come up with solutions.”
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Kamel, who is the divorcee of Egypt’s new Culture Minister Imad Abu Ghazy and mother of the 20-year-old Miriam, always appears wearing pants and a t-shirt. She never covers her head and on her neck dons a long necklace with a large cross. “I’m Muslim, but it’s important for me to also represent Egypt’s Copts,” she said.
Women look up to her admiringly and bombard her with letters asking for her help in addressing their problems and complaints. “One can go through life complaining that we have no rights,” she reprimands them,” yet we can also seize these rights, even by force.”
Kamel, who made a career in the media, assumed several senior posts behind the microphone and in front of the cameras. She started as a reporter and editor of the radio show “The Egypt you don’t know,” where she interviewed taxi drivers, students and homemakers, learning about the issues that truly bother the common people.
Next she moved on to the role of newscaster on official Egyptian television, and five years ago signed a lucrative deal with Saudi TV channel Orbit, which broadcasts from Cairo. However, to this day she insists that “The Egypt you don’t know” inspired her to enter politics. “I spoke with thousands of miserable souls ignored by Mubarak’s regime and learned much,” she said. “When I realized I am the hope they are clinging to, in the absence of another address, I told myself: Why not run for the most influential job in Egypt?”
Lesson from GoldaThe cameras love Kamel, and her dynamic personality captured the attention of Western media. The New York Times, British Guardian and leading American blogs wrote articles about the female candidate who seeks to make history.
A media advisor who volunteered to work for Kamel advised her not to be scared by the threats on her life and build her campaign for the next elections too. “You are still young,” he told her. When she said reminded him that she is 49-years-old, he responded: “Take a look at Golda Meir, who managed to become Israel’s prime minister when she was 20 years older than you.
During the protests that prompted Mubarak’s dismissal, she headed to Tahrir Square every evening, immediately after finishing her shift at the Saudi channel’s studies. “Yet one night, when I insisted on talking about Mubarak’s fund smuggling and spoke of proof that tens of millions of dollars were smuggled overseas, the Saudis got scared and the show was canceled,” she said. “Twenty minute before the show was to start I found myself out of the studio because of the Saudi royal house’s anxiety; the money-smuggling route apparently passed through their backyard.”
As result of her dismissal, Kamel has plenty of free time for campaign tours. When facing large crowds she comes across as sharp, biting, and one who has no fear of the other candidates. Her rivals attempted to incriminate her over a land purchase deal and later accused her of “handing out envelopes filled with dollar bills.” Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood movement also strongly objects to her candidacy.
Kamel also managed to quarrel with the supreme military council that took power in Egypt following the revolution. When I was informed that police officers are undertaking “virginity checks” among young female protestors, I spoke out harshly,” she said. After being summoned for a “talk,” she was released immediately with the promise that such checks shall draw to an end.
Kamel’s blogs and the reaction to her appearances teaches us about Egypt’s society in the wake of the revolution: Not only are we failing to see an improvement in women’s rights and prospects, their status is in fact deteriorating. “What does she think, that we need a woman who will make decisions for us?” one reader wrote. “She should sit at home and raise children.”
Kamel is familiar with the attacks against her and promises that “even if I fail, I already breached custom.” At this time, she is focusing on a campaign against corruption and the relationship between politicians and wealth, an issue that prompted the imprisonment of Mubarak’s close associates and sons.“ I want to bring the young people of the revolution into parliament and end the idol worshiping of Mideastern leaders,” she said. “The people have spoken, and nobody believed Mubarak would go away. Now, they should start believing that a woman is also capable of leading Egypt.
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