Abdel Fattah El-Sisi may be relying on voter turnout in Egypt’s election this week to gauge his popularity, but he is assured of widespread backing from at least one segment of the population — women. Or, more accurately, women of a certain age.
Since driving the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi from power in 2013, the Egyptian president has gone out of his way to appeal to women — from rousing speeches to pushing for reforms to combat child marriage and changes in the divorce laws.
The result has been broad adulation from women aged over 40, but also some cynicism over the tactics he deploys to win them over.
“There is no one better than him and the reality attests to his achievements,” said Sanaa Bashai, winner of the government’s “ideal mother” award in Assiut Governorate.
Last March, El-Sisi declared 2017 the “Year of Women”. The number of women in government ministries increased, and gender became a common topic of discussion.
There was a 15 percent increase in the number of women holding seats in parliament after the 2014 election and a 20 percent increase in the number holding cabinet positions.
Fatma Ragab, spokeswomen for “In the love of Egypt,” a campaign supporting El-Sisi’s inevitable second term, said she hoped more Egyptian women would have “greater roles on both the social and political lines, and we expect more leadership roles to be occupied by women.”
In December, a new law was passed granting women increased access to inheritance rights.
El-Sisi’s popularity with middle-aged and older women has led to some unusual displays of adulation.
Last year, Sabila Agiza was so impressed with the president’s performance that she donated all her savings, an estimated $11,000, and her gold possessions to Egypt’s Tahia Masr fund.
“When I met El-Sisi, he offered me tea made with his own hands,” she said.
El-Sisi won the 2014 poll with 97 percent of the vote, and support from women does not appear to have been dampened by the even more one-sided nature of this week’s election.
His government has been criticized by the UN for a crackdown on the media and the arrest of political opponents in the run-up to the vote.
At a conference last January when El-Sisi was asked to appoint a minister for women’s affairs, he replied sarcastically: “I am the women’s minister.”
And last week, at a Mother’s Day awards ceremony, he said: “My speeches about Egyptian women never end and this is not an exaggeration.”
Several analysts have criticized El-Sisi for using any event to make highly emotional speeches to please female supporters. On many occasions he will hold women’s hands and kiss their heads as he meets adoring crowds.
But despite the criticism, and whatever the turnout for the election, El-Sisi’s standing among that segment of Egyptian women looks set to continue.
“We will go (to vote) to continue our journey with El-Sisi. We will go to show our appreciation and renew our trust in our hero,” said 44-year-old Sawsan Ahmed.