Cairo: More than five decades after Egypt had its first woman minister, the current government can boast of having the largest number of female ministers in the country’s modern history.

Last week, the new government led by former housing minister Mustafa Madbuli was unveiled with its 32-strong line-up featuring eight women ministers. Female newcomers are Hala Zayed as health minister; and Yasmin Fouad as environment minister.

Six women ministers from the previous government have been retained. They are: Ghada Wali as minister of social solidarity; Sahar Nasr as minister of investment and international cooperation; Nabila Makram as minister of migration and Egyptian expatriates; Rania Al Mashat as tourism minister; Hala Al Saeed as planning minister; and Inas Abdul Dayem as culture minister.

The growing profile of women in the government has generated wide applause in Egypt, where females account for 48.4 per cent of Egypt’s population of nearly 95 million.

“Women now make up 25 per cent of the government members, a matter that represents a new gain for the Egyptian women,” said Maya Mursi, the head of Egypt’s National Council for Women.

“This also reflects the great support given to women in this era where Egypt has an enlightened political leadership believing in the importance of the woman’s role in society and her abilities in achieving growth and reforms in economy and other fields,” she added in a press statement.

In 2016, Egypt initiated painful economic reforms, including the flotation of the local pound and cuts in state subsidy. The steps secured Egypt a $12 billion (Dh44.04 billion) loan over three years from the IMF, but triggered a spate of price rises that have taken a heavy toll on the poor and the middle class. On several occasions, President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi has expressed particular appreciation to Egyptian women for coping with the fallout from the economic reforms, which he called unavoidable.

In 1962, the then president Jamal Abdul Nasser appointed Hekmat Abu Zeid as Egypt’s first woman minister in the portfolio of social affairs. Al Sissi, who took office in 2014, has shown interest in improving women’s status including toughening penalties against sexual harassment, a big problem in Egypt.

Some lawmakers have praised Al Sissi for boosting women’s empowerment.

“The political leadership’s confidence in women is strong in Al Sissi’s era,” MP Maysa Atwa said. “No previous government has such a big number of government members,” she added in press remarks. Atwa is hopeful that the women ministers will make up half of the cabinet members in the near future. “The Egyptian woman is qualified for more ministerial posts due to her efficiency.”

There have been mixed reactions from ordinary Egyptians to women’s high-profile presence in the government make-up.

“It is a step in the right direction of recognising the women’s potentials,” said Hadeer Ahmad, an engineer. “According to official figures, around one-third of Egyptian families are supported by female breadwinners. Thus, women are playing a major role in society in these hard times,” she added.

 The political leadership’s confidence in women is strong in Al Sissi’s era. No previous government has such a big number of woman members. The Egyptian woman is qualified for more ministerial posts ...”

 - Maysa Atwa | Egyptian lawmaker 

“I look forward to the day when a woman will become a prime minister and even a president in Egypt. The Egyptian woman has all it takes to efficiently handle the highest positions. Just she needs the chance.”

Hassan Fawzy, a government employee, dismisses as propaganda the appointment of women ministers. “It’s a sort of propaganda or we can call it a public relations exercise to please the West and women rights groups,” he said. “Are there not enough qualified men to do the job? The natural role of the woman is to serve her husband and raise her children. Enough of imitating the West.”

Who’s who in Egypt’s women ministers

Ghada Wali
A holder of a master’s degree in arts from Cairo University, she has a wide experience in the fields of development and civil society groups. She previously held several posts, including an assistant resident of the UN Development Programme in Cairo and the head of the government-run Social Fund for Development. She has been a minister of social solidarity since February 2014, instituting programmes aimed at extending financial assistance to Egypt’s poorest people. She is 69-years old.

Sahar Nasr
Having graduated from the American University in Cairo, Nasr obtained a master’s degree in economics from her alma mater in 1990. She also taught economics at the same university. In September 2015, she was appointed as minister of international cooperation. She has since shown interest in bolstering Egypt’s cooperation with other parts of the world, mainly the Gulf countries. In February, 2017, the minister, 54, was given the portfolio of investment along with the ministry of international cooperation. Nasr boasts a vast experience in economic development, having worked with the World Bank as an economic expert for the Middle East and North Africa.

Nabila Makram
A graduate of the political science school, Makram served as a diplomat in Egyptian embassies in several countries including Brazil, the UAE and the United States. In September 2015, she was appointed as minister of migration and Egyptian expatriates. She has since made a flurry of overseas trips aimed at strengthening expatriates’ links to the homeland and acted swiftly to solve their problems. Makram is 48-years old.

Hala Al Saeed
She is the daughter of Egypt’s former electricity minister Helmi Al Saeed. In 2011, the younger Al Saeed became the first elected dean of state-run Cairo University’s economics and political science school. She also served as an assistant president of the same university for three years, starting in 2013. In 2017, she was appointed as planning minister in the then government of Sharif Esmail. She is 61-years old.

Rania Al Mashat
A holder of master’s and a doctoral degree in economics from the University of Maryland, Al Mashat served as a senior economist at the IMF. She taught economics at the American University in Cairo. Her previous post was being the undersecretary of the Central Bank of Egypt for monetary policy. In January this year, she was appointed as tourism minister, tasked with reviving a vital industry that was hard hit by the turmoil that followed Egypt’s 2011 uprising. She is 43-years old.

Inas Abdul Dayem
A well-known flautist, she studied at the Cairo Conservatoire before going to France where she obtained her master’s and doctorate degrees. She has performed in a big number of concerts in Egypt and abroad. In 2010, she became the head of the Cairo Conservatoire. Two years later, she took the helm of the Egyptian Opera House. In January, this year, she was chosen as Egypt’s first culture minister. She is 57-years old.

Hala Zayed
Born in 1967, she graduated from the medical school at Egypt’s provincial Zagaziq University in 1991. Zayed obtained degrees in business administration, hospital management as well as obstetrics and gynaecology. Her previous positions including a lecturer at the Cairo University, a board member of Egypt’s Al Azhar Specialised Universities, a member of the army medical school’s educational council and an adviser to the health minister.

Yasmin Fouad
An assistant professor at Cairo University’s economics and political science school, Fouad took charge of the Ideas Bank, an agency set up by the Egyptian Environment Ministry to develop environmentally friendly systems. She also served as an assistant environment minister for sustainable development. She is an advocate of the green economy, including waste recycle and sustainable utilisation of natural resources. Fouad is 43-years old.