Problems on hold
Tahani al-Gebali is a name we first heard of in the 2000s when she was appointed the first woman judge, breaking thus men’s monopoly over the judiciary in Egypt. Justice Gebali caught the public eye with her poise, confidence, and conventional wisdom. I was not alone in believing she stood to open an uncharted way before Egyptian women.
This was during the Mubarak years, prior to the 2011 Arab Spring on the wings of which the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) rode to power and went on to Islamise Egypt. Gebali was among the figures who rose in protest against the MB scheme. She demonstrated such remarkable guts in her opposition to the MB that she was placed among the top figures on their black list, the list of those earmarked for MB revenge. But Gebali neither quivered at the threat nor did she go back on her resolve to defend what she believed in, namely the dignity of Egyptian women, and their right—on account of their momentous contribution to the community on all levels—to leading judiciary posts. She staunchly defended women’s right to freely express themselves and choose how to dress, in open defiance to the fundamental Islamic Salafis who wished to drag women back to the Dark Ages.
Gebali’s candour earned her a prominent spotlight on the Egyptian media, and she rapidly became a household name. I was not alone in observing that she was closer to politicians who vocally aired their views than to the more reticent judges who normally preferred to keep a safe distance from political conflict. Gebali aired her political views with gusto, embracing stances that opposed the Islamist stream which was holding Egypt in its grip. I could not help wondering why would she not shirk off her judicial role and actively join politics by forming a party that would work to make her views a reality on the ground? She appeared capable of attracting supporters, and her judicial background would surely give her an edge.
Tahani al-Gebali did just that, Following the 30 June 2013 Revolution that overthrew the Islamist MB and laid the ground for a secular Egyptian State, she left the judiciary and joined Egypt’s political ranks. Her exceptional capabilities enabled her to swiftly make it to leadership. When it was time for parliamentary elections, parties and political figures began to form coalitions to contest the elections, and Gebali founded al-Tahaluf al-Gumhouri (the Republican Coalition). The coalition was able to withstand the conflicts and divisions on the political scene and attract a substantial portion of the electorate.
The Tahaluf, however, was not able to dislodge another coalition, Fi Hub Masr (For the Love of Egypt) from its lead position in the race to parliament. Then the bombshell struck. Gebali suddenly resorted to making unsubstantiated allegations against members of her rival list, going so far as to accuse them of corruption and treason. She claimed to have evidence that they had met with MB leaders and accepted from them dubious funding. I was thunderstruck, not least because of the unquestionable honesty, candour and patriotism of the figures in question; they already have to their credit what could dissociate them from any treason or corruption blames. Yet the shock was that someone as shrewd as Gebali would resort to such a serious ‘bang’. Had she lost her poise under the stress of the electoral race? How could she think she could splinter her rivals then step to win over their ruins? Had she consulted her political partners before venturing on such a suicidal move?
Predictably, the political blow Gebali aimed at her rivals backfired. Public, political and media reaction ranged from shock to denouncement to rejection. There was an almost unanimous opinion that a respected figure such as Gebali would stoop to such bahaviour in order to achieve an electoral gain. Of course the Fi Hub Masr figures denied the allegations and threatened legal action. The first and second round of the parliamentary elections resulted in an overwhelming victory for Fi Hub Masr. Political analysts say the result undoubtedly points to the confidence of voters in Fi Hub Masr, but also demonstrates punitive voting against the Tahaluf.
Was Gebali’s venture miscalculated? Was it an electoral bang? Was it political suicide?
6 December 2015