Underground for decades as the only credible opposition to Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood became a mainstream, and officially registered, political party – gaining a near majority in the recent parliamentary elections after the Egyptian uprising in January 2011. Though dominated by male leaders, their party “Horreya wal Addalah” (Freedom and Justice Party), provided a space for women, but it was unclear if this was for political motives, or a sign of increasing modernity. With the revolution, the Islamic organization and its women were coming out of the shadow. However, the position of women in the “Brotherhood” remains tenuous and unclear. For example, Sara, a young Muslim sister of 18, complains about the place of the woman in the organization – how women do not have the same rights, the same power to make decisions as men. Sara is not alone, as many of the young sisters I met want to work internally to change the mentality of the Brotherhood towards women, and claim their rights.
During a project on Egyptian youth revolutionaries, I met many young people from the Muslim Brotherhood who immediately challenged the stereotypical view their movement has in the west – conservative, dogmatic, uncompromisingly Islamic. The youth I got to know were primarily moderate, reform oriented and pragmatic. But even this did not prepare me for the “contradictions” of young women of the Brotherhood whom I met.These “Muslim Sisters” played an important role during the Egyptian uprising and were willing to be a motor in the construction of a new Egypt – one they want to be based on, or influenced by, Islamic practices. But that is only part of the story, as these women have for years been quietly involved in social/charity work (schools, hospitals, interest free loans, etc.) – for which the Brotherhood gained its reputation, popularity and social capital. Beyond the political and social engagement, the sisters all take part in religious activities, and once a week gather in “Osra” (family in Arabic) to discuss Koranic suras while reflecting on their personal experiences. Their lives are organized around Islam, and their stated priorities are to be a good mother, a good wife and most importantly – a good Muslim. The full picture is more complex though, as most of the sisters wear western clothes under the “abbayas” (the long Islamic robe), are educated, post pictures on facebook and seek equal rights and treatment.