Egypt’s first woman culture minister unbowed by Salafists’ hostility
Cairo - The appointment of Ines Abdel-Dayem as Egypt’s minister of culture in a cabinet reshuffle was warmly welcomed by many Egyptians but the appointment of the first female to the post was criticised by the country’s ultra-orthodox Salafists, who questioned her ability to safeguard Egypt’s culture.
Abdel-Dayem, 58, a professional flute player, was appointed culture minister on January 14 in a minor cabinet reshuffle that included the tourism, local administration and public enterprise sector portfolios. In 2012 she became the second woman to head the Egyptian Opera House.
Abdel-Dayem received a doctorate from the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris and has been the recipient of numerous international awards. She has toured Europe and the Middle East as a professional musician.
“Apart from being a woman, Abdel-Dayem is far from qualified to lead an important ministry like this,” said Sameh Abdel Hamid, a Salafist preacher who is leading the opposition to her appointment. “How can a professional flute player lead this country’s aspired march towards cultural enlightenment?”
Salafists are generally opposed to the presence of women in leadership positions.
Abdel-Dayem said she would not be intimidated by the Salafists and would go ahead with her plan to reform Egypt’s cultural scene.
“I was confident that they would oppose my appointment as culture minister,” Abdel-Dayem said, “but I will never ever allow these people to spoil my joy and the progress my country makes in the empowerment of its women.”
Abdel-Dayem was nominated for the culture portfolio in 2013 but a few hours before the swearing-in ceremony was to take place, the prime minister called her and told her that she would not be appointed due to opposition from al-Nour Party, the largest Salafist political party in Egypt.
“I was deeply disappointed,” Abdel-Dayem said, “but I will not allow them to do the same this time and will formulate a comprehensive strategy for Egypt’s cultural reawakening, one that eradicates extremism and this outdated thinking.”
There are four other female ministers in Egypt’s cabinet and 15% of the members of parliament are women.
Egypt’s Salafist movements have millions of followers. In addition to opposing women taking positions of leadership, Salafists are opposed to the presence of non-Muslims in leadership posts. In 2012, Salafists staged mass protests against the appointment of a Christian as governor of the southern province of Luxor.
The National Council for Women, a women’s rights organisation, said it would stand up for Abdel- Dayem and other women facing opposition from Salafists.
“Our country is moving forward and nobody can hold it back,” said council President Maya Morsi. “These people [the Salafists] cannot impose their outdated thinking on us.”