By Manar Ammar -
In a sea of local press coverage and media appearances of presidential nominees for
The 49-year-old former talk show host is no stranger to breaking
social norms of what a woman can and cannot do. A self-proclaimed social
democrat, her campaign motto is simple: “
Bothaina Kamel: 'Journalist, mother & Egyptian presidential candidate' on the campaign trail..
“I intend to run for [the]
presidency in 2011” came her nomination announcement on the micro-blogging
website Twitter. Coinciding with the announcement, she changed her profile
description to “Journalist, mother & Egyptian presidential candidate.” She
felt there must be a woman candidate and has been traveling around
“I decided to do a tour around
“I couldn’t have done it if it was not for the revolution, no one could have nominated themselves if it wasn’t for the revolution.”
“I am the nominee of the revolution. I came out of this revolution’s womb.”
Kamel, like thousands of other Egyptian women, was part of the revolution from the beginning. She was seen marching and chanting and at times forming a human shield to prevent police from arresting the young activists.
“Women are a great part of this revolution, they helped plan for it and participated in it and we also gave many female martyrs. We have a share in this revolution, in our revolution,” she says. Many Egyptian women gave their lives to the revolution, including housewives who were shot while watching and cheering the protests from their balconies and windows, according to eyewitnesses and rights activists. There are no official numbers of how many women died during the uprising, but according to testimonies, the number is in the hundreds.
Kamel is not a stranger to
hearing people and listening to their issues. She hosted a popular radio show
in the 1990s called “Nightly Confessions” where callers told her personal
stories and asked for advice. The program broke social barriers when it
discussed sexual violence and relationship affairs, thus was stopped after a
religious committee ruled that the show “gave
Kamel later moved to TV and hosted an interview-based program called “Please Listen to Me” where she had social and political figures discussing an array of current issues. Her show was stopped by the channel after the January 25 revolution, being notified only 30 minutes before the show.
“My nomination is really a message to the country. Amid a patriarchal society it is an important step. With the implementation of human rights and freedoms, people will start to feel that their country is theirs once again.”
In the heart of who Kamel is, she is a defender of social justice.
In a country where over half the population makes less than $2 a day, the
“poverty and corruption fighter” has put her hand on real development issues.
She is engaged in many development projects outside of
Kamel’s adversaries are well known and established politicians.
For example there is
So where does Kamel see herself among these nominees? She says that the political powers and the other nominees are far from the revolution and that they have “lost touch with the base.”
“I am a revolutionist more than anything else. I used to consider myself a rights activist before, but now I am mainly a revolutionist. So when I felt that the revolution was slipping away from our fingers and that other powers were trying to grab their share of the cake, I knew I had to do something.”
Kamel is an outspoken critic of the SCAF,
On May 14, the military prosecutor questioned Kamel for over five hours regarding messages she wrote on Twitter following a conversation she had with General Ismail Etman, head of Moral Affairs of the SCAF. Kamel confronted the general on the arrest and abuse of demonstrators by the military police and the forced virginity tests of female detainees. Kamel says the meeting went “all right” and no charges were pressed against her, but it revealed the army was following what she says.
“I see what is going on now as a dirty game on the SCAF’s part and besides the army was never a democratic institution, it goes against democracy and civil rights.” She seems to have no intentions to stop defying the military.
Asking Kamel about the reactions she received after her nomination
and whether the negativity from some has gotten to her she laughed, saying that
it was the Egyptian press who seemed focused on issues like her cooking and her
domestic duties and how she would be drifting away from her traditional role as
a woman. She said that on the ground people she meets are very supportive and
she is always received with great warmth and friendliness. She strangely added
that the older generations seem more open-minded and welcoming than the younger
ones. Kamel’s observation seems to echo new conservatism spreading through some
of the younger generation of
“When an Islamic law student came to me and told it was ‘haram’ [forbidden] for women to hold a position such as president, I told him to go home and study because there is nothing in Islam that opposes that.”
Kamel is now always on the move, traveling from one city to another - talking, meeting different groups, and participating in new projects. She is hoping that the SCAF will set a clear date for the elections and a clear plan for the upcoming period.
As she travels, Kamel’s real base continues to grow. No matter how
many experts say her chances are slim and how much the press ignores or
stereotypes her, she remains a fighter and her work with people seems to not to
be bound to an election. As much as
While it is still hard on many Egyptians to digest the concept of a woman president, it is easy for many to like Bothaina Kamel. For all her engaging liveliness and grassroots efforts, she is still going to be in history as the first woman who went head to head with other nominees without partaking much in political games.