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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Equity Not Equality: The Gender Discourse of an Egyptian Activist

  • Author(s): Lewis, Pauline
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY-NC-SA' version 3.0 license

Since its inception in 1928, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has played a large role in shaping Egyptian politics and society. The 2011 toppling of Hosni Mubarak and the opening up of the political system has led to an increased presence of the movement, with representatives forming a majority in parliament and even winning the powerful presidency. Observers and analysts within and without Egypt continue to have questions about the movement and its motives and perspectives. Fairly or not, the question of the Brotherhood’s stance on women and questions of gender are at the forefront of the debate. Encouraged by the former regime’s propaganda against the opposition movement, as well as the group’s conservative approach, many critics fear that the brotherhood’s ascent will result in a decrease of women’s rights and political participation.

This paper seeks to explore this question through examining the work of one of the movement’s former leaders: Zainab al-Ghazali. Al-Ghazali has bedeviled many observers, as her work within the movement seems to contradict her rhetoric on the role of women within society. While she thrived in the male-dominated sphere of political leadership, she encouraged Muslim women to return to the home and maintain the base of Islamic society: the family. An examination of al-Ghazali’s texts reveals support for women’s rights and participation, but not with the goal of achieving gender equality. Her discourse also displays a connection between conservative gender norms and the postcolonial question of indigenous sovereignty. Understanding this interplay of ideologies not only sheds light on al-Ghazali’s discourse, but also on the ideological roots of the Muslim Brotherhood.

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