The Sisters of the Brotherhood – An FP Slideshow

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Portraits of the women inside Egypt‘s most powerful political movement.

CAPTIONS BY MATILDE GATTONI | NOVEMBER 17, 2011

Amr (center), 28, plays with the youngest of her three siblings in a friend’s house in New Cairo. A graduate from the School of Law in Cairo, she doesn’t work in order to spend time with her children, because, she explains, “I believe my role as a mother is much more important than my job.”  Amr joined the Muslim Brotherhood eight years ago, after getting married. She is adamant in saying that — contrary to the beliefs of outsiders — the organization is extremely democratic. “We are consulted for every big decision,” she says. “Evan if I’m at home, there will be always someone from the organization coming to ask my point of view on the main topics.”

The Brotherhood, which was founded by the Egyptian schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna in 1928, is perhaps the most prominent Islamic revival movement in the world today. In Egypt, the movement was violently suppressed under President Gamal Abdel Nasser and banned but tolerated under President Hosni Mubarak, who used fear of an Islamic bogeyman to ensure Western support for his regime. Now, on the eve of the country’s first elections following Mubarak’s fall, the Brotherhood is poised to become one of the most dominant political and cultural forces in Egypt. But its name aside, many women play active roles in the Brotherhood — and vigorously defend the organization from allegations that it is a misogynistic or unrepresentative organization.

Matilde Gattoni 

Marwa Mohsen, 30, poses inside an office of the Muslim Brotherhood in the outskirts of Cairo. A graduate in Commerce from Cairo University, she currently works from her house, running a small catering business. Married and the mother of a two-year-old daughter, she comes from a very secular family. She joined the Brotherhood when she was 20, after becoming friends with some Muslim Sisters at her university and becoming interested in Islamic values. “I was struck by their openness,” she says. “They never judged me or made me feel uncomfortable for the tight dresses I was wearing at that time.” Today, she is an elder  inside the organization, in charge of a group of teenagers she meets once a week to teach them Islamic values and counsel them on everyday problems.

Egyptians will go to the polls on Nov. 28 to vote in the first round of parliamentary elections — the first vote in the country’s post-colonial history where the result has not been known in advance. The Brotherhood has formed the Freedom and Justice Party to compete in the campaign, and is expected to perform well.

Matilde Gattoni  

Awatef Saad, 35, poses inside an office of the Muslim Brotherhood in the outskirts of Cairo. A married mother of four, Saad has a Masters degree in science. She became a Muslim Sister at 18 after attending some university rallies in support of the Palestinian cause. Today, she runs a small human resources company and organizes courses for members of the Brotherhood as well. “History proves that women played a huge role inside the organization, and we are asking now to play a bigger part in the leadership as well,” she says. “One day, I hope to see a woman leading the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Matilde Gattoni  

Women from the group participate in Orphan Day in Cairo. During this day, they play with orphaned children and teach them the basics of the Koran. The project is a means to introduce the children to the values of the organization.

Matilde Gattoni  

The Muslim Brotherhood has provided social services to Egypt’s 80 million citizens, who were often poorly served by Mubarak-era Egypt’s crumbling social safety net. These programs earned the Brotherhood deep reservoirs of support, particularly among the poorer citizens on the outskirts of Cairo.

Above, a member of the Brotherhood pushes a child as part of an orphan outreach day.

Matilde Gattoni  

The grassroots networks of the Muslim Brotherhood, developed through decades of activism and organization, sets the movement apart from the parties that have emerged after the collapse of Mubarak’s regime. “They have the ability to knock on every door,” said one Egyptian stationary shop owner, admiringly. “They are the strongest political power in Egypt.”

Above, members of the organization confer during a day of outreach to orphans.

Matilde Gattoni  

Above, employees fill out forms at Al Farouk hospital in Cairo, a structure financially supported by the Muslim Brotherhood. During decades as a banned political party, the group reached out to Egyptians through charitable organizations such as this one. As one patient told the Voice of America in February, “If you look behind you, the televisions are playing verses from the holy Quran.  The staff are doing their jobs, considering God in their conscience and I feel comfortable and anything related to Islam makes me feel psychologically relieved.”

Matilde Gattoni  

Young members of the Muslim Brotherhood attend the Friday demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in Sept. 2011.

Matilde Gattoni 

 

Since the end of the revolution, people have been gathering almost every Friday to support the revolution and to push the armed services to fulfill their requests.

Matilde Gattoni  

Asmaa el Hdad (left), 20, listens to the Friday prayer in Tahrir Square with some girlfriends. A Muslim Sister from Mansoura, she studies opthalmology at the university there. Like many other members of the Muslim Brotherhood, she thinks the Egyptian presidency should be reserved for men, but would like women to take bigger responsibilities both inside and outside the organization.

Matilde Gattoni  

Safia Haroun (left), 29, and Rehab Hassan Gouda, 33, both Muslim Sisters from Alexandria, chat during a rally in Tahrir Square. Gouda is a housewife and a volunteer inside the Brotherhood. She advocates for a bigger role for women inside the organization, especially after the revolution, which she describes as a watershed event in the history of Egypt. “During the previous regime the security situation didn’t allow us to take any active role,” she explains. “But now the situation is changing.” Haroun joined the organization when she was studying pharmaceutical studies at a university in 2003. Since the beginning, she was fascinated by the high level of organization inside the Brotherhood and the bonds created between members. She doesn’t see any contradiction in establishing a democracy based on Islamic values. “We are in a country were Muslim are the majority, after all,” she says.

Matilde Gattoni  

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood attend a weekly gathering in Cairo. As usual, the Sisters sat on one side of the room while the Brothers sat on the other.

Matilde Gattoni  

For many pious Egyptians, membership in the Muslim Brotherhood is a family affair. Here, a husband, wife and their children attend a weekly gathering in Cairo.

Matilde Gattoni  

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