With a high turnout of women voters in Egypt’s parliamentary elections, the fact remains that the number of women candidates is relatively low in a field already stacked with political hurdles against female hopefuls. “I wish there was a woman candidate in my constituency, but all the candidates were men,” said Noha, a 35-year-old woman who cast her ballot in Giza during the first stage of the elections, which took off on 17 October and its run-offs on 27 and 28 of the same month. Wafaa Ashrey, the first female candidate yet to submit her papers in the Upper Egyptian city of Aswan, was unable to secure a seat in the first stage, said that “there was a great decline in women running in my constituency due to their fear of failure and the experience as a whole.”
News this week that women are registering to vote in elections in Saudi Arabia has garnered plenty of attention. The move, described by the kingdom as a “significant milestone in progress” is in keeping with a 2011 royal decree permitting women to run and vote in municipal polls to be held in December. But before we celebrate a step toward equality in one of the world’s most notoriously misogynist countries, it is important to look a little closer at this supposed reform. The reality is that when you view this change in the wider context of Saudi Arabia’s extreme and expanding political repression, it is clear that it is an advance on paper only. Indeed, the right to vote in thoroughly closed political systems is essentially meaningless — what do you vote for in a system that effectively forbids meaningful political opposition of any kind?