After the fervour displayed at Cairo’s Tahrir Square set a template for revolution elsewhere, one would have thought that the Egyptians believed in leading by example than blindly aping that set by others. We were obviously mistaken. With Mohamed Morsi, a leading figure of the Muslim Brotherhood, being elected president of Egypt in the recent elections, attention is now trained on his wife Naglaa Ali Mahmoud, and the idea of womanhood she represents at this crucial juncture in Egypt’s history.
For the record, and for purposes of a context, Mr Morsi’s wife — who has rejected the title of first lady as it is a western import and prefers to be called Umm Ahmed or mother of Ahmed, her first born son — wears spectacles, covers her head and shoulders with a conservative veil, is the mother of five children and has never been to college. Portly and maternal, her looks have been compared to that of a “peasant”: depending on the strata of Egyptian society one belongs to, it has resulted in eliciting either elitist disdain or a comfortable sense of trust and faith. Given that her savvy predecessor Suzanne Mubarak — smartly attired with well-coiffed hair — became synonymous with overarching ambition and greed, many might feel that a departure from that mode portends well for the country.
If anything, Naglaa Ali Mahmoud is reported to have stressed the importance of educating girls and letting them work, an imperative that wasn’t there when she was young. But clearly, that isn’t enough. The fact that she is not in pantsuits or not sporting enough greasepaint has apparently made her an unfit role model to women across Egyptian society. Nobody bothers why Mr Morsi sports a beard or about the cut of a particular jacket that Barack Obama might have worn. It is their wives who must be endlessly scrutinised, and faulted if there is a hair out of place or a life choice considered unbecoming. Revolutions come and go, but the age of gilded trophy wives is never over.