Egypt’s president-elect Mohamed Morsi plans to appoint a woman as one of his vice presidents. The yet-to-be-named woman would be Egypt’s first female vice president, and she would be serving alongside Egypt’s first Coptic Christian vice president, also yet-to-be-named.
But how much will these appointments calm fears about the Muslim Brotherhood? Mona Makram-Ebeid is a former member of Egypt’s parliament. She is also a political science professor at the American University in Cairo. Makram-Ebeid calls the move revolutionary for Morsi, but not for the Egyptian people.
"It's a symbol of the new era that we are entering," the former parliamentarian says. "It gives some reassuring indications." However, Makram-Ebeid points out that there must be weight behind these symbolic appointments. For Morsi to win over the Egyptians whom he is trying to court, he has to assure the protection of the rights of women and Coptic Christians. While the appointment of a woman to a vice presidency would be a first for the country, it would in no way be a solution to Egyptian women's rights issues under an Islamist government.
Despite her skepticism about the validity of Morsi's pledges, Makram-Ebeid sees the election itself as an opportunity for a further solidification of Egypt's new democracy: "I think that what we are seeing is the rebirth of a people who have been forcefully stagnated by their political elites."
Morsi was elected to the presidency of Egypt on June 24, marking the first time that the country had chosen its leader via free and fair elections. The election of an Islamist has worried many of the liberals who drove the revolution against former president Hosni Mubarak, but Morsi's administration has pledged to promote unity in its policies and appointments.
Members of the opposition to the government have organized themselves into a group called The Third Way. Characterized by the secular, educated section of the Egyptian population, this opposition, Makram-Ebeid says, is committed to mounting an effective opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood's parliamentary and presidential victories. This opposition has given Morsi 100 days to make good on his promises to achieve broad-base support for his government. He must also face down the military and reinstate Egypt's dissolved Parliament.
The case for Egyptian democracy will be made in the next four years, Makram-Ebeid says. While the election is the first spark of democracy, it remains to be seen whether or not it will survive and solidify. "Now is just the beginning. In four years, if there is no alternative [to Morsi's presidency], then it will be an Islamic government for good."