Candid with Bothaina Kamel, Egypt’s First Female Presidential Candidate

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, 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



This peace was originally written by 3 women, Agazit, Cassandra, & myself but we opened it up, and asked other woman to also speak their peace. The result was a metamorphis, and a compilation of voices of women from all walks of life: students, teachers, poets, activists, mentors, voices reppin Algeria, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Egypt, Mexico, the US and Zimbabwe… if any of you would still like to speak your peace, you’re most welcome to do so….

I’m proud to be a fellow woman-let me now leave you to hear these phenomenal women speaking their peace!!

-Phenomenal women from all walks of life

You have reached the woman
Who keeps her eyes wide open
Her pain closed tight against pessimistic winds
So she can release them in Remembrance deep in the night….
You have reached the woman
Who was never told why she was brought up in North America
Instead of North Africa
Why she could be not be African nor Arab nor American
But every one by different ones…
You have reached the woman
Who asks too many questions
For her own good
Got too educated
And too career-ed
And too into her own dreams
Which are sunflower bright ones.
You have reached Mouna

You have reached the woman
Who believes life is good no matter what
Because we have to create our own peace & happiness
You have reached the woman
Who does not ask GOD for things she would like to have
But thanks GOD for all that she has at this specific time in her life
With complete understanding
That what’s here today may be gone tomorrow
You have reached Mariana

You have reached the woman
Who is a mother trying to raise a woman
Who will stand up for justice and truth
Even if it’s against herself.
Against her loved ones, her community, her nation.
Even if it’s her against the entire world,
She will stand up for what’s right.
Who will be successful not by
Making millions at the cost of others
But by being capable, confident, content
Ambitious and determined.
Who will fix things wrong with this world
Whether she does so with her voice or hands.
Who will find her passions and create.
Pray, love, dance, live, believe.
Laugh, breath, swim, write, sing.
Hope, wish, and achieve.
You have reached the woman who
wishes her daughter will be the change
She wishes to see in the world.
Who will mend the wounds of those who cry
And sew the holes of society.
You have reached Sumaya

You have reached the woman
Who believes in the importance of family and friendship.
Whose experiences have helped define her existence
Without regrets of what was and without fear of what will….
You’ve reached the woman
Who refuses to fit the mold,
Refuses to give in to the expectations
Of the person she’s supposed to be
Instead of being the person she desires to be…
You’ve reached the woman,
Who is outraged by the constant exploitation and killings
Of our people and our land in the name of liberation….
You’ve reached a woman
Whom passion drives her…
Compassion humbles her…
And faith solidifies her….
You have reached Wala

You have reached the woman
Whose words are not buried beneath her tongues,
Who crafts metaphors & similes like
She tends to the garments of her inner untouched souls:
That place she can call her own
You have reached the woman
Who has dared to stop and take stock
And realise the images in the broken mirror are not hers
You have reached Batsirai

You have reached the woman
Who understands that happiness
Cannot be bought, travelled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed
Who defines happiness as the spiritual experience of living every minute
With love, kindness, grace and gratitude
You’ve reached the woman
Who follows her dreams and travels the road less taken;
Who is always reaching for the stars and beyond;
Like a tree growing and rising upward while firmly rooted to the ground.
You’ve reached the woman
Who inspires and empowers
Who models herself after the movers and shakers and money-makers;
Plus, the trophy-takers, truth-seekers, and peace-makers,
But never the fakers and heart-breakers.
You’ve reached the woman
Who is soft-spoken yet outspoken.
The one who has often fallen yet never once broken.
You have reached Nasim

You have reached the woman
Who is full of contradictions:
Who has everything,
But fears missing out on everything else she doesn’t have;
Who fears commitment,
But also fears a broken promise,
Who wants to be held tight,
But doesn’t want to be held back;
You have reached the woman
Who knows that her abilities are endless; limits do not exist in her world,
Outside of the limits she places around herself.
Who hates being told NO.
Who resents being told to “never mind,”
Because, little do you know,
You have reached the woman
Who would rather die trying than give up
Who is trying to become the kind of woman she would take seriously
A woman who makes her arms strong,
And provides portions for all in her household;
A woman who has the vision and dedication to create & grow;
A woman who one day hopes to fear nothing but God,
As she grows in wisdom, and kindness, and Love.
You have reached Samar

You have reached the woman who
Who is first and foremost
Muslim, African, Ethiopian, Hareri
You have reached the woman who
Hates the sound of unused running water
The sight of an empty lit room
Seeing food turned into trash
You have reached the woman who
Can reach for the stars
And still keep her feet on the ground
You have reached Nebila

You have reached the woman
Who loves to learn but is still counting the days till summer
The woman who longs for peace but finds truth in Fanon
Who breathes in colors,
Dreams in life, dwells in languages
You have reached the woman
Who writes backwards and walks forwards
You have reached Agazit

You have reached the woman
Who speaks English, Portuguese, Spanish and Swahili
Whose native tongue is Poetrese
Who is as Berkeley as she can be
Runs wild in the global streets
Believes in transformative action
Non violent social change
Who dwells outside of boxes
And cuts up the plastic ringlets on six packs so that wild life does not die
You have reached the woman
Whose country is the earth
Whose favorite book is her passport
You have reached Cassandra

You have reached the women
Who will keep rising
Who will stand tall
Regardless of how many times they fall
Who embrace their fathers, their brothers, their sons
As they do their mothers, their sisters, their daughters

You have reached the women
Who will not ask you—
Who are you to be brilliant, talented, gorgeous, handsome or fabulous?
Rather you have reached the women who will ask you who are you not to be
You have reached the women
Who share the belief that
“Impossible is nothing,
Nothing but a big word thrown around by small men
Who find it easier to live in a world they’ve been given
Than to explore the power they have to change it”

You have reached the women who remind you of Audre Lorde:
“Poetry is not a Luxury, but a necessity
And your silence will not protect you”
The women who after years in academia can still comfortably stand up and say
No, we wont put ourselves in your shoes,
We don’t wear the same size/we don’t have the same style

You have reached the women
Who genuflect to the power of language
Whose swords are ballpoint, felt tip and fountain
Who believe that revolutions don’t get televised
They get poeticized, ripped, & spit at open mics
So let us now leave you
To desilence yourselves & perform floetically
In the language of your truth
Translating if you choose

So please, speak your peace
After the beep

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