“Woman and the constitution: Fear of woman’s marginalization rules over all” blared an April 2012 headline in al-Ahram, joining other protests over the role of women in Egypt’s new constitution. Organizations (“EgyptSoft”) sprang up, with articles and posts about how “the Egyptian woman screams in the face of the constitution of discrimination.” Fear reigned about how the post-revolutionary Islamist government would approach women’s rights, with many women’s organizations striking a defensive posture. The government of Mohamed Morsi pushed through the new constitution, despite protests all around, including a ritualistic hair cutting ceremony in Tahrir Square.
Criticisms of the new Egyptian constitution have revolved around its presumed violations of women’s rights. Media reports in the United States have blamed the Islamism of the new state for jeopardizing women’s “personal liberty” and civil rights. Recent reports by Time, NPR, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Wilson Center, and the United Nations pose women’s rights against the “Islamism” of the new Egyptian government and its constitution. Women’s “personal liberty” and civil rights, the Time article asserts, is “at odds” with “religious edicts.” These reports stress the dangers that an Islamic government, and “conservative Islam” in general, will pose to women’s rights. Mainstream news outlets like USA Today and CBS News jump to far-fetched conclusions about the implications for women’s rights, claiming that the new constitution allows fathers to marry off their daughters at the age of nine years old and tells them what to wear. “And some,” the article says, “are organizing to protect their rights.” The large majority of this criticism has focused on how Egypt’s new constitution denies women equality. CBS News, for example, reports that “women’s equality is absent from the Egyptian constitution…the work of religiously conservative supporters of President Muhammad Morsi…and his Islamist allies.”
Yet the 2012 constitution is the first to explicitly establish—without qualification—“equality and equal opportunities for all citizens, men and women (muwatinin wa-muwatinat), without distinction, favoritism, or partiality, in rights or duties.” The preamble asserts this equality as one of the founding principles of the new state, going to great lengths to pay tribute to democratic principles like popular sovereignty, political pluralism, dignity, and freedom (of thought, expression, creativity, etc.). Gender equality is an integral element of this liberal vision of the new state, asserted in the preamble’s fifth principle. Moreover, the equality of all citizens is reiterated as a general principle no fewer than five times in the main body of the constitution (in Articles 6, 8, 9, 33, and 63). Of course, whether social or political equality can be achieved by constitutional decrees or amendments is up for debate—and is not a question that I can answer here. But it is clear that equality in general, and gender equality in particular, has an important role in the new constitution. Perhaps they should look at the beam in their own eye rather than the speck in their (Muslim) brother’s. The original US Constitution has no mention of equality anywhere between anyone. Women did not gain equal protection under the law until 1971 with Reed v. Reed. And despite (nearly constant) calls for an Equal Rights Amendment (since 1923), the ERA has never been passed into law.
The 2012 constitution’s attitude toward women represents less a break—than continuity—with previous constitutions. The Morsi government’s adaptation of the liberal language of women’s rights represents the fruition of a long legacy of liberal language developed within the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and more recently in the democratic rhetoric of the Freedom and Justice Party. One of the most important aspects of this legacy is a vocabulary of women’s rights and women’s equality, deployed in the service of Islamic mobilization. This advocacy has been essential in cultivating a broad appeal among the populace and to casting the MB as a forwarding-thinking reformist party. (See Mona al-Ghobashy’s excellent article on this in International Journal of Middle East Studies.)
This article charts a genealogy of the language of “women’s equality” in successive constitutions, as the new Egypt converts the fervor of revolutionary change into the civil liberties of a new constitutionalism. Trying to set the foundations for “freedom” in the wake of revolutionary liberation (as in Hannah Arendt’s classic distinction), the codification of these rights represents a new kind of regulation of the body politic toward the ends of human development and free enterprise, both inside and outside the home.
The new constitution converts the revolutionary spirit of the uprisings into constitutionally mandated civil liberties, the better to regulate and delimit citizen rights within the framework of the new state. In On Revolution, Hannah Arendt describes how through constitutions, the state converts revolutionary freedoms into essentially limited notions of civil rights and liberties. Through this process, the state is able to regulate—and restrict—newfound freedoms through law (31-33). In a recent article on citizenship after revolution, Maya Mikdashi points out that “citizenship and gender reveal themselves to be mutually constitutive…because political society is constituted through state-regulated kinship, one must study gender, sex, and their embodiments and regulations in order to approach the state and its citizens.” Post-revolution constitution making re-establishes and re-entrenches what Arendt calls a constitutio libertatis of the novus ordo saeclorum, a secular liberal order that needs the grounding and legitimating “sanction of religion ever more urgently” (161). Feminists and activists critique these new constitutions’ valorizations of complementarity and the family, like in a recent panel on the gendering of constitutions at the World Social Forum. But as Mikdashi and others (like Mervat Hatem, Wendy Brown, Carole Pateman, and Joan Scott) observe, this sexual contract is the counterpart of citizenship’s social contract in a liberal secular order. And its origins lie in secular state politics (both colonial and postcolonial) that depend heavily on religion for its legitimization, religion that is said to reside in the family, in women’s bodies, in the sexual contract, and in the inviolability of private property.
Outcry over the new constitution has had a different tenor inside Egypt, directed less at its presumed Islamism, than at the constitution’s autocratizing elements. Most of these critiques were guided by a belief that the Mohamed Morsi government and the Muslim Brotherhood were engineering political institutions and state policy in ways that will preserve the authoritarian character of the Egyptian state, albeit concealed under a façade of democracy. Fears have revolved around the use of democratic language as a fig leaf to cover the apparatus of an authoritarian “deep state,” one whose structure and institutions may be intractable or even useful to the Muslim Brotherhood. The use of democratic rhetoric to disguise other, less democratic, aims is a tactic familiar to the region, whether in its imperial, authoritarian, or neoliberal garb.
Gender Equality: Public Rights and Private Duties
Gender equality first appears in the 1956 constitution promulgated under Gamal Abd al-Nasser. “All Egyptians are equal under the law in public rights and duties, without discrimination due to sex, origin, language, religion, or belief” (Article 31, emphasis added). In contrast, the 1923 constitution (Article 3) called for equality for all Egyptians, without discrimination with respect to origin, language, or religion without mentioning sex. In addition to gender equality, the 1956 constitution also introduced the tension between women’s public work and her duties to the family, asserting that “the State facilitates for women the agreement (al-tawfiq) between her work in society and her duties to the family” (Article 19). As in the US Constitution, the tension between women’s “public work” and her “duties to the family” have been at the core of contestations around—and liberal assertions of—women’s legal equality with men. This emphasis on safeguarding the family is one the nostalgic aftereffects of the ruthless individualism of liberal citizenship, where duties, obligations, responsibilities, care, community, and communitarianism is projected onto, and circumscribed within, a feminized realm of intimate relations, characterized in naturalistic and biological terms.
This dualism between public rights and private duties is what some, like Joan Scott, Carole Pateman, and Mervat Hatem have critiqued as the gendered “paradox” inherent in liberal ideology. It is a sexual contract that mirrors the social, with duties shoring up rights, family shoring up the individual, religion shoring up the state, difference shoring up equality, etc. Yet these contradictions are also how secular liberalism produces its own (seeming) conceptual opposites, harmonizing them as “complementary” to liberalism’s own political ends.
The language of tawfiq between women’s public work and her duties in family life was reproduced verbatim into the 1971 and 2012 constitutions. The 1971 constitution states: “The State shall guarantee the agreement (tawfiq) between the duties of a woman toward her family and her work in society, considering her equal status with man in the fields of political, social, cultural, and economic life, without contravening the laws of Islamic shari‘a” (Article 11). This constitution introduced something new into the tension between public rights and private duties: religion as potentially opposed to women’s equal rights with men. This clause thus set up a binary between equal work in (secular) society, in contradistinction to (religious) hierarchies governing family life. The language of the clause connects equality to public rights, while suggesting a different set of gendered private duties.
The clause asserting women’s equality to men—but only where this equality does not “violate the rules of Islamic jurisprudence”—found its way into an earlier draft of the 2012 constitution. After public uproar, the drafters ultimately opted for broad, unqualified, assertions of gender equality. The removal of the clause speaks volumes about the liberal ambitions of the Morsi government, ambitions that are both political and economic. The new government clearly intends to show that women’s equality is not antithetical to an “Islamic society,” to an Islamist president, to government by an Islamist party, or to an “Islamic democracy.” Gender inequalities remain encoded in the personal status laws with regards to witnessing, polygamy, and divorce, for example. But the liberal language of the new constitution sublimates these inequalities (in typical liberal fashion) underneath euphoric celebrations of newfound political liberties, pluralism, democracy, and freedom (mentioned no fewer than eight times in the preamble alone). The language has clearly rankled activists, who, along with feminists, critique this liberalism’s dissimulations and hypocrisies, along with its dualisms and paradoxes.
What purpose does the discursive ideology of equality serve for the new Egyptian state? Its authors clearly aim to thwart resilient assumptions about the incompatibility of Islam with gender equality. But they also wield a long-developed discourse of gender equality in Islam as a political tool. This gender equality (and equal rights and duties) has been a pillar of contemporary Islamist ideology, developed in the writings of thinkers like Sayyid Qutb, Abd al-Wahid Wafi, and Muhammad al-Ghazali. Each of them wrote extensively on Islamic notions of women’s and men’s reciprocal rights and duties, on conceptions of Islamic freedom and equality, and on women. Each focuses on gender equality as a pillar of social justice and human rights in Islam. It is a principle that the Freedom and Justice Party spokeswoman Dina Zakaria recently reiterated in an interview about the constitution on NPR. Dr. Huda Ghaniyya, one of the drafters of the new constitution and a member of the People’s Assembly (the lower house of Parliament), similarly defended the constitution’s protections of “women’s rights, dignity, and freedom” in a video on Ikhwan Tube. The liberal language of gender equality and/or complementarity (two sides of the same coin) continues to permeate Islamist rhetoric in Egypt and elsewhere, as activists deploy the language of rights to argue for both religious and political freedoms. This language grows out of a longer trajectory of rights discourse in the region that informs current conceptions of gendered citizenship.
Family, Motherhood, and Childhood
The 2012 constitution calls for providing free services for motherhood and childhood, a clause that has been interpreted as an Islamist bid to relegate women to the home and force them to be mothers (in USA Today, CBS News, Egypt Independent, International Business Times, Ms. Magazine, etc.) It has caused an uproar in Arab and Egyptian activist circles, at the World Social Forum, in NGOs like the al-Majlis al-Qawmi li-al-Mar’a and the Women and Memory Forum, and in the media, in al-Ahram, al-Sharq al-Awsat, and Egypt Independent. The clause of “protection” for the family has been understood as emblematic of Islamist “focus on the family,” as consigning women to domestic roles, and as opposed to women’s rights.
Yet protection of the family, and especially of motherhood and childhood, is hardly unique to the 2012 constitution. It is derived directly from the 1956 constitution (Article 18) and from the 1971 constitution (Article 10) that also call for supporting the family and protecting motherhood and childhood. These articles might be understood as an Islamist provision, but they are partly influenced and derived from Articles 16 and 25 from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), promulgated just before the Free Officers’ Revolution in 1952. The language of protections for motherhood and childhood is not found in the 1923 constitution, but is introduced in the later, post-UDHR constitutions. Article 18 of the 1956 constitution says: “The State protects and supports (takfil al-da‘m) the family, in accordance with the law, and protects motherhood and childhood.” Article 25 of the UDHR similarly declares that “motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance,” just as Article 16 calls for protection of the family by society and state, as a “natural and fundamental group unit of society.” Not surprisingly, Article 5 of the 1956 constitution echoes this language, stating that “the family is the basis of society and her [family, usra, being feminine] support is religion, morals, and nationalism.”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its principles were “translated” into Islamic thought in Egypt, in widely-circulated texts like Sayyid Qutb’s Social Justice in Islam (1949), Abd al-Wahid Wafi’s Human Rights in Islam (1957), and in Muhammad al-Ghazali’s Human Rights Between the Teachings of Islam and the Declaration of the United Nations (1963). These thinkers called for freedom, rights, and equality, first under the Egyptian monarchy, and later, under the dictatorship of Gamal Abdel Nasser, as they strategically deployed “rights talk” as a political imaginary against repressive regimes. The family became a place for envisioning—and articulating—a system of reciprocal rights and duties in an Islamic society, symbolically standing in for an Islamic polity in a secular dictatorship that brokered no peace with political Islam. Both the state and opposition parties strategically deployed the language of rights and freedoms as ideological tools during this time.
Personal Status Laws: A Secular Formula?
Criticisms of Egypt’s new (“Islamist”) constitution have focused on Article 10: “The family is the basis of society, her support is religion, morality, and patriotism.” This article has been generally interpreted as an Islamist provision, as flowing from an Islamist emphasis on family values and on women’s roles as mothers. Yet Article 10 hardly has its origins in the Islamic ideology of the Freedom and Justice Party, as public commentaries have relentlessly asserted. Article 10 is taken verbatim from Article 5 (“The family is the basis of society, founded on religion, morality, and patriotism”) of the 1956 constitution under Nasser, who was, by that time, resolutely at war with the Muslim Brotherhood. This historical context, along with the looming moral presence of the UDHR, is utterly critical to understanding this particular formulation of a religious family as the basis of society (versus politics). Through the constitution, Nasser sought to curb and control the powers of not just the Muslim Brotherhood, but also al-Azhar and the religious courts. He did this partly by concentrating religion in the family and the personal status laws, as emblems of authentic religion, but also circumscribed within the family. In 1956, Nasser abolished the religious courts, bringing the (religious) laws of personal status under the jurisdiction of the (civil, secular) national courts, in addition to bringing the administration of al-Azhar under government control. The personal status laws were, nonetheless, still governed by the religious laws of their respective religious communities. In his book Formations of the Secular, Talal Asad calls the personal status laws “the expression of a secular formula, defining a place in which ‘religion’ is allowed to make its public appearance through state law,” and where religion is (publicly) relegated to private life (231). Article 10 is a reflection of that “secular formula,” growing out the state’s complex—and contested—relationship with the (religious) personal status laws. The personal status laws have historically functioned as a means of controlling religious law (partially) by consigning it to the family (and religious property), a tactic first used by colonial regimes in the region. Relegating shari‘a to family law served to delimit its sphere of influence.
The role of Islamic law in state legislation has been one of the most contested questions in Egypt’s constitutional history—one that has been manipulated toward different political ends by different regimes. One of the biggest obsessions of the new media was whether the Morsi government was going to impose religious law. But the personal status laws have come to stand in for (or even replace) religious law in general. Article 2 of the 2012 constitution states that “Islam is the religion of the state and Arabic its official language. Principles of the Islamic shari‘a are the main source of legislation.” The current constitution’s assertion of Islamic law as “the source of legislation” is closely related to the role of the personal status laws as a repository for religious law in the Egyptian state. It is no accident that the next article, Article 3 of the 2012 constitution, goes on to define religious law of the respective religious minority communities as the basis for their own personal status laws, reiterating the centrality of religion (and religious law) to governing the personal affairs of the family.
Again, Article 2 stating that shari‘a is the main source of legislation for the state is not unique to the new constitution, but is tied to a complex history of negotiations over the role of religious law in state politics. The 1956 and 1971 constitutions declared Islam the religion of the state, but the 1971 constitution added an additional clause asserting that shari‘a was a main source of legislation (even though the personal status codes were the only laws based on shari‘a). In a later constitutional amendment in 1980, the Anwar Sadat government would change this to shari‘a as the main source of legislation (identical to the clause in the new constitution). This clause was designed to counteract the uproar against “Jihan’s law,” a set of reforms to the personal status laws instituted by emergency decree in the wake of the Camp David Accords. The reforms were popularly attributed to Sadat’s wife, Jihan, who had led the Egyptian delegation to the International Women’s Year conference in Mexico City in 1975. Presidential fiat suddenly made reforms long and arduously debated throughout the 1960s into state law.
Shari‘a as the source of legislation seemed designed to cushion the blow of not just peace with Israel, but also the related structural adjustment policies of the late 1970s. The Sadat regime simultaneously issued new laws designed to facilitate women’s work in public employment, while simultaneously encouraging greater productivity (and economic management) of the household. The courts did little to enforce shari‘a as the basis of law, despite a number of cases brought by Islamists in the 1980s to test its applicability. Article 2 of the 2012 constitution adopts the language of the 1980 amendment, but without a clear blueprint of its applicability beyond the personal status laws. This legal language reinforces the family and gendered relationships as the sphere proper of religion, religious government, and religious law.
Family: The Unit of the (Neo)Liberal Polity
These legal provisions about the inviolability of the family instituted a political division of labor in the social life of the secular state. It is well known that Sadat’s overtures to Islamist groups aimed at harnessing the political power of Islamist groups against the socialist left—toward Sadat’s goals of economic liberalization, privatization, and structural adjustment. These policies began in 1974 (around the time of Richard Nixon’s visit to Egypt) and were furthered with Egypt’s 1977 agreement with the International Monetary Fund (on the eve of Sadat’s “journey to Jerusalem”). This political and economic liberalization contributed to the rise of Islamic groups in Egypt, as they capitalized on newfound freedoms to spread their message.
Sadat’s 1971 constitution re-introduced a concept absent from the constitution promulgated under Nasser: the family as the locus of private property (amlak in Article 10). This clause is grouped in a cluster of articles (9-11) that talk not just about family and private property, but also about motherhood and childhood, a gendered division of labor, and women’s equality. The clause about the family as the locus of private property resuscitated elements from the earlier “liberal” constitution of 1923, one that declared “homes” and “property” sacrosanct and inviolable (hurma), a word connoting not just sacredness, but with feminine overtones of the harim, women. These legal provisions cultivated the family as the locus of property, as the sphere proper of women’s labor, and as necessary to the proper management of national resources, whether human or material.
The gendered terms of the 1971 constitution set the legislative stage for a series of interrelated processes that included economic liberalization (“The Open Door Economic Policy”), rapprochement with the United States, peace with Israel, deals with the International Monetary Fund, structural adjustment, international aid, and loosened restrictions on Islamist groups. Family and women became targeted as key sites of economic reform. Meanwhile, international organizations swooped down on a newly “opened” Egypt. One of their more fervent aims was accomplishing the goals of the International Women’s Year, (economic) development and (economic) equality, in which Jihan Sadat played a key part. After she led a delegation to the conference in June 1975, she presided over a conference at al-Azhar on “Makanat al-Mar’a fi al-Usra al-Islamiyya (The Place of Woman in the Islamic Family, 1975), with assistance from the United Nations Population Council. The conference reiterated the family as a “fundamental unit for building society; a microcosmic image of society itself; society takes from the family its means of government, organization, and modes of nation building.” One of the most important products of this international aid was al-Azhar’s International Islamic Center for Population Studies and Research, with projects that continue to be jointly sponsored—and funded by—USAID, UNICEF, and the Ford Foundation.
Commitment to privatization and structural adjustment policies, and accordingly, peace with Israel, has been born out in the post-revolution era, as the Morsi government has sought out bigger and better agreements with the IMF (a $4.8 billion loan proposed in November 2012). The Freedom and Justice Party’s Nahda Project, a document that served as a platform for the Morsi presidency and a blueprint for the constitution, could not be more explicit in its commitment to neoliberal expansion. One of the first sections of the document (after “Building a Political System”) is on “Transforming Into a Development Economy.” Women’s labor is absolutely essential to this neoliberal vision, as it was to aid projects of the 1980s and 1990s. The document ends with assertions of the importance of women’s labor in the household economy and in “private enterprise,” asserting that the vision of the Nahda Project “depends on respecting the dignity of the Egyptian citizen and his right to own property.”
The Nahda Project speaks the (neo)liberal language of women’s equality with men, of the complementarity of their labor, of the importance of finding a gendered balance between work in the family and outside the family, in the household economy and in “private enterprise,” in private and in public. This contested—and gendered—territory has been an integral part not only of development projects and discourses in the region (the UN’s Women and Development initiative, for example), but also in subsequent Egyptian constitutions that wrestle with the relationship between family duties, “work in society” (1956, 1971), and “public work” (2012). In Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, sociologist Maria Mies calls this a process of “housewifization” in “the new international division of labor,” as capital “rediscovers third world women’s” importance to the global economy. The new constitution’s call for an agreement between public work and private duties has also attracted criticism, as an Islamist bid to impose Islamic family values on the Egyptian family. I would argue that these “family values” are an integral part of the liberal politics of the new constitution, family values that are not unique to an Islamic society, nor to an Islamic polity (see Wendy Brown’s “Liberalism’s Family Values” in States of Injury.) These family values shore up a rights-based community, providing a source of communal cohesion in a polity calling for individual liberties. These family values emphasize the importance of private property in the family, managed as an economically productive household economy, as the political and economic unit of a neoliberal polity.
Women’s equality with men—in the new Egyptian constitution, in the Nahda Project, and in the United States’ ERA—has hinged on issues of women’s labor in the home and outside the home. Like the new constitution, the Nahda Project also asserts women’s equality with men, doing so in a framework that addresses the issue of the balance between women’s work in the home and outside the home. This section of the document begins with verse 3:195 from the Qur’an “I do not squander the work of any work from among you, whether male or female, you are from one another.” The document goes on to derive a principle of commensurability (mukafa’a) between men and women “in status and position.” From the perspective of liberal feminism (and developmentalist logics) economic participation and economic independence foster women’s equality with men, concepts articulated in this section of the Nahda Project. Drawing on the language of the earlier constitutions, the Nahda Project calls for “supporting and empowering the Egyptian woman and facilitating (ifsah) the path to her social and political participation in the priorities of national work and development, growing from our belief that women are equal to men in position and status, commensurate in work and importance.” The first clause asserts “we strive toward empowering the Egyptian woman in practice and not just in words, and toward eliminating the obstacles that block her from fruitful participation in all domains of life, particularly those domains that help women to realize a balance between her contributions to home and family and to society.” Much like other development documents that talk about empowerment, economic participation, growth, and “fruits” are understood as fostering economic freedoms, independence, and equality. The Nahda Project explicitly calls for fostering women’s participation in small businesses and “private enterprise.”
As with prior constitutions, and prior governments, the issue of women’s rights and women’s equality has been enmeshed in the question of women’s labor, both inside and outside the home. Women represent a critical factor in the state’s project of human development, of which women’s (human) rights are understood as an essential element. Equality in this sense means two things: the right to economic equality (through formal labor) and reciprocal rights and duties in the family (informal labor). Women play a central role in cultivating the raw human material of the family, but also of overseeing private property and private enterprise, the building blocks of the (neo)liberal state. Key articles of the constitution (namely Article 10) address this issue, defining women’s pivotal importance in mediating between the private and public sectors. They play a key role in creating an “agreement” or a “balance” (tawfiq) between the two realms, one that synchronizes them toward (what the 1956 constitution) calls the “goals of the nation.”
Finally, the 2012 constitution breaches what has been a long contested and debated topic in Islamic thought about the legitimacy of women’s political participation. Drawing on Islamic writings about women’s political participation and leadership, debates that erupted in the 1980s and 1990s, the Nahda Project calls for a campaign to overcome cultural biases about this political participation. The marks of a number of important Islamic feminists, especially thinkers like Heba Raouf, can be seen in the document, marks that found their way into the new constitution. In her book al-Mar’a wa-l-‘Amal al-Siyasi (Woman and Political Work, 1995), Raouf developed a theory of women’s political participation in the Islamic umma through “jihad” in the family. Drawing on conceptions of the family as the first “cell” of society in modern Islamic thought, she reorients politics in the personal, in the sphere of family relations. This work in the family is what Raouf calls a “non-violent jihad,” a “women’s’ jihad” that effects social change at the level of intimate relations. Describing a kind of biopower from the ground up, her Islamic theory of women’s political work in the 1990s gave way to a later understanding of the power of informal networks, of community institutions, of micro-politics, and of intimate relations in transforming the larger, seemingly indomitable forces of global politics. She developed this theory in the early 1990s, in the midst of—and in response to—a proliferation of development projects and reports focusing on women, work, and family in the Arab world. This “politics of informality” is what she also terms the “soft force” al-quwa al-na‘ima, of “gradual institutional change,” a tactic that has long been one of Islamic organizations’ most powerful political tools in Egypt. But “soft force” has also become one of the ways of interpreting the power of the new revolutions in the Arab world. Raouf, a political science professor at Cairo University and an Islamist public intellectual, draws on Joseph Nye’s concept of “soft power,” but also deploys classical Islamic language of ni‘ma, of a blessing or of smoothness that also has a feminine connotation of women’s softness. The preamble of the new constitution includes a notion of “soft force” as its eleventh and final principle.
The Egyptian constitution uses the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house, in Audre Lorde’s famous metaphor in Sister Outsider. Lorde also argued that this made “genuine change” impossible. Her essay is a criticism of white feminism’s notion of “marital slavery,” writing that “the need and desire to nurture is not pathological but redemptive” and is its own kind of “freedom” and “emancipation.” Lorde’s ideas would influence feminist activists and theorists like Patricia Hill Collins who wrote about the social and political value of “motherwork” and bell hooks who wrote about “homeplace” as a site of resistance in a white world. The new constitution clearly uses the language of liberalism—and the techniques of neoliberalism—to imagine a rights based society, re-envisioning a capitalist democracy in Islamic terms. But the document also envisions a neo/liberal family, structured by notions of an equal—or reciprocal—division of labor between the formal and informal economies, between the private and public, between family and polity. A haven in a heartless world, it shores up community in an age of predatory capitalism and structural adjustment.
Article 10’s clause about balancing duties to the family and work outside the home—rife in any mommy blogs in the blogosphere, or in the recent media storm over the Anne-Marie Slaughter piece in The Atlantic, or in any number of books and movies about the problem of “having it all”—has been read in the American media as symptomatic of the Islamic character of the new constitution. Rather than being interpreted as a gesture to acknowledging the actual conditions created by a (neo)liberal vision of women’s equality and liberation, the American (and leftist Egyptian) press interpreted these references to the family as repressive. This is hardly an Islamic form of oppression, but rather what Nikolas Rose calls “the despotism at the heart of liberalism,” where the family has a “key role in strategies of government through freedom” (43, 74). And if the Morsi government turns dictatorial like its predecessors, it is most likely because of the authoritarian governmentality at the heart of liberalism (the “illiberality of liberal government”), rather than an Islamic refusal of rights talk.