Change in Egypt: The Kamel Factor

Presidential candidate Bothaina Kamel at a rally. (Courtesy: Facebook page).

It takes a moment to contemplate all of the change that has come to Egypt so far this year (and counting).  The world watched as what began as a steady revolt in January to oust longtime President Hosni Mubarak quickly escalated into an international demonstration in the spirit of democracy and human rights.  Egyptian men and women said they were sick of the corruption, poverty, and economic stagnation.  They demanded change.

An embattled government shutdown the Internet to a majority of citizens, though images and messages still made their way through such social media channels like Facebook and Twitter.  Cell phones that captured graphic video of street clashes were watches by thousands as they were uploaded to Youtube.

Then came Mubarak’s pledge to form a new government.  Later, he announced he would not seek another term.   In February, members of the government resigned.  Mubarak made a last ditch effort to maintain power before leaving.  The nation’s military then obtained control as work on a new constitution began.

Change, as part of the Arab Spring, continues now well into the latter part of our summer.  Now, candidates are making the rounds in effort to achieve the presidency; realistically open for the first time since the early 1980s when Mubarak came into power.

Several names are already out there like former International Atomic Energy Agency head Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei (a fixture in the anti-Mubarak revolution).  Diplomat Amr Moussa is another name in the mix.   There’s one name getting increasing attention overseas; a candidate that is transforming the political process in Egypt simply by running.

Her name is Bothaina Kamel. She is the first female presidential candidate in Egypt’s history.  Analysts consider the self-described social democrat to be a long shot.  Her name recognition is largely driven from her media work.  She is a former television anchor and journalist, and Mubarak critic. Now, she’s making headlines of her own.

Bothaina Kamel with supporters (Courtesy: Facebook page).

“By putting myself forward I am making this democratic right – the right of a woman to be president – a concrete reality, and that alters expectations,” she said of her candidacy as quoted by a report in The Guardian.

Steven A. Cook wrote a piece appearing on the Council on Foreign Relations website, and later in The Atlantic, documenting the tremendous message of change her candidacy sends to a society that frowns on the idea of women serving in leadership roles (and in some cases, outright bans it).

“The real significance of Kamel’s candidacy is that it can actually shatter many of the misconceptions and traditional attitudes regarding women’s role in Society, and can turn the tides of the debate over the “right” of a woman to run for leadership roles in an Arab and Muslim country.”

He continues, “In a region with a host of gender biases and an active Islamist current vying for supremacy, at a time when political and social values are actually being rewritten, and when women across the Arab world are fighting to get their basic rights, the shockwaves of a legitimate female candidacy could be massive and fundamentally transformational, even if such a candidacy does not result in victory.”

Her candidacy adds even more dynamic to some of the changes taking places in the Arab World, and particularly in Egypt.  While I’m surprised we haven’t seen as much coverage of her in the American media just yet, I think that could change. The election is later this year and other matters related to the Arab Spring are grabbing more of the major headlines, such as the violent protester crackdowns taking place in Syria.

In the meantime, those of us paying attention to the evolving Egyptian political climate will see small signs of change in real time.  They will be present in the attitudes of many Egyptian women, as well as the political powers at be that are somewhat resistant to transitions; especially on social and cultural levels.

Like I said before, it takes a moment to contemplate the amount of change that has taken place so far in Egypt.  It also takes a great degree of contemplation to evaluate the magnitude of such change.  In Bothaina Kamel’s case, it’s likely to be seismic regardless of the electoral outcome.

*Note: This article is not a political endorsement of any candidate, but a mere evaluation of the current political dynamics in a post-Mubarak Egypt.

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