Egypt women’s rights official battles Islamists she says will roll back rights

June 7, 2012

(Women line up waiting to cast their vote at a polling station in Cairo May 23, 2012.REUTERS/Mohammed Salem )

The head of Egypt’s state council for women has accused resurgent Islamists of seeking to roll back female rights on such issues as divorce and custody and undermine the council as a discredited remnant of the Hosni Mubarak era.

“They are trying to take away rights that women attained in compliance with Islamic sharia,” said Mervat Tallawy, head of the National Council for Women, adding that criticism of the council was an attempt to erode female rights.

The Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) dominates parliament, has dismissed the council as an institution that was “a weapon of the former regime to break up and destroy families” in a statement on its website.

Association with ousted leader Mubarak and his first lady Suzanne, an outspoken but disputed advocate of their cause, has made it harder for women’s rights campaigners to counter what they see as a threat from newly empowered Islamists.

Tallawy, named to head the council in February by the army-backed interim government, accused the FJP of smearing the council by depicting it as a tool of Mubarak’s administration used to further foreign interests.

“They do not want a national institution for women,” Tallawy told Reuters in an interview. “They have said that the international (women’s) agreements are imperialistic and part of a foreign agenda.”

The council was founded by presidential decree in 2000 and was overseen by Suzanne Mubarak until her husband’s overthrow in a popular uprising in February 2011.

Its role is to propose public policies on women and implement international agreements that Egypt has joined such as the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Egypt ratified in 1981.

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