Candid with Bothaina Kamel, Egypt’s First Female Presidential Candidate
Following FEMNET’s Third Regional Conference for African Women in Political Leadership held in Nairobi, Kenya from Aug 29th-31st, 2011, I had the opportunity to sit down and candidly chat with Egypt’s First Female Presidential Candidate, a beautiful, humble and genuine Bothaina Kamel.
What inspired you to run for presidency?
We made a revolution in Egypt, started by the youth in Tahrir where coalitions and politicians introduced themselves to represent the youth, the revolutionaries, and to give a message to the Egyptian people. That is, the right of elections, and the right for all to run for presidency. Women are a marginal group, along with Nubians and Coptic Christians. I wanted to reaffirm their right to be leaders as part of the revolution. When I put in my candidacy, I wanted to give Egypt a civilized image, put the conservative people in the corner. It is important to push for the demands of the revolution.
What role did you play in the revolution?
Before the revolution, I was involved in monitoring the presidential/parliamentary election since 2005 through a movement dubbed Shayfeen.com, or We are Watching You-which resulted in the production of a film about our efforts. We fought for the independence of the judiciary, and worked to fight corruption and as part of the Egyptians Against Corruption provided awards to those fighting corruption since 2007. We were able to mobilize 800,000 signatures to freeze Mubarek’s assets which was presented at the UNCAC (UN Convention Against Corruption). In 2010 during the World Day Against Corruption, I staged a one-person demonstration in front of the Office of the General Prosecutor who was in charge of impacting the Convention. We also wrote the Shadow Report at the last conference of UNCAC. The officers were very angry with me, claiming that I was giving Egypt a bad image. I also prevented police from arresting youth, often putting my reputation as a media person to support the youth movement (6th April, and those for freedom and justice).
I have been out in the streets from day 1, since 2005 and continued to be in the streets during our revolution and to this day.
What was Cairo like during the Revolution?
Cairo during the revolution was a very special place, there was euphoria, almost a kind of paradise-all together, head to head, Muslims and Copts, men and women, youth and the elderly, the poor and the rich-all were working together for one goal, to dismantle the corrupted marriage between money and power. In the Mubarek era, there was no ownership over the country, no pride in being Egyptian, after the revolution, this all changed. You could even see Cairo clean, because the people felt ownership, they were no longer subject to the indignity imposed by the old regime.
The revolution gave us the true Egyptian spirit, and we will do our best to sustain this-we owe it to the martyrs, that is our promise to them.
Did you ever envision an Egypt without Mubarek?
Personally, I do what I have to do regardless of the outcome. Like the Egyptian peasant, we must cultivate the land, rain or no rain—in any circumstance we must do our work properly. Everyday, we win as Egyptians. But the Mubarek regime is still in power-through the army. The people made the revolution, not the army. The army didn’t shoot us, but at the same time, they did—they enabled the police to buy guns and bullets. SCAF, the Army Counsel, although not like Libya and Syria, tried to kill the fervor of the revolution by making the activists out as liars. If the army was with the revolution, how can they accuse people fighting for the revolution? Thugs who were handed over to the army were released back into the square.
The revolution still has a long way to go. We need to rebuild the country, build democracy and encourage youth to play the right politics.
Your campaign slogan is “My Agenda is Egypt”—what do you mean by that?
During the revolution, Mubarek accused us of having a foreign agenda, of being financed from the West, and claimed that 50 Euros was being spent per person per day to fund the revolution. My slogan is a response to this, my agenda, first and foremost is Egypt-there is no foreign agenda. My agenda is the revolution-“Dignity, freedom & social justice.”
Do you feel that your background in journalism and activism has helped further your campaign?
In a way it has, as a journalist myself, I know how to talk to media-which is very important. I also am able to talk to the people and understand their concerns. I have travelled all over Egypt to better understand the situation in different parts of the country. Social media is also very important—I am able to communicate, especially with the youth and hear their views on certain issues. In fact, I announced my bid for presidency on Twitter!
What lessons are there for the rest of Africa to learn from the revolutions of the North of the continent?
We need to give hope to the youth. We shouldn’t pay any attention to skepticism. Before the revolution, people said “Egypt is not Tunisia”, but we were able to prove them wrong. If it happened in Egypt, it can happen elsewhere. We need to connect with the rest of the African Continent—power comes from our unity and solidarity.
Anything else you would like to share with us?
I don’t want people to vote for me because I am a woman. I want people to vote for me because they believe in the cause that I champion.
©Nebila Abdulmelik, August 2011