In the Country of Women

The irreplaceable Salah Jahin had a stable of characters for his sharp cartoons. One biting pair was a husband and wife couple dubbed “Samsoon wa Zaleellah”, a play on the Biblical Samson and Delilah as well as on the colloquial Egyptian word for a beaten-down servant (Zaleel). The man is perpetually in a tank top covering his ample girth, his head balding with an unruly mop of hair. The woman is always disheveled in a house dress.  The man usually makes idiotic and pompous pronouncements and the woman always answers in a servile but clear and biting way.

The situation for women in Egypt has not improved since the death of Jahin a quarter century ago. One of the fables making the rounds lately is that Mubarak never really wanted his son to follow him, it was his wife Suzanne that pushed him into it. This is a convenient story for the Generals who served Mubarak for over 2 decades but turned against him when it seemed that Gamal was a shoe-in.  The great Baba they served was never that wrong, it is that witch of a wife that did it. To the potent brew of misogyny, the observation that Suzanne is “half-Egyptian” adds a strong after-kick of Xenophobia.  Almost identical charges were whispered against Sadat’s wife. Nasser’s wife (who was also “half-Egyptian”) was spared the wagging tongues. It is no wonder that one of the items that came up in the discussion about the new constitution was that the President’s wife needs to be “fully” Egyptian.

There is no Intrade for Egyptian politics and societal changes. If there were, I would bet massively on a change coming from the women’s direction. Egyptian will never be fully free, nor fully functional, till this tetchy patriarchy meets its end. It may take decades though.

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