October 25, 2016 Special Dispatch No. 6650

Arab Writers: It Is Time Arab Women Served As Heads Of State

October 25, 2016
Special Dispatch No. 6650

Several Arab writers have recently published articles in which they praised women leaders such as Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel, and expressed hope that women in Arab countries would also attain the highest positions such as president or prime minister. Radhia Jerbi, head of the National Union of Tunisian Women, made similar remarks in an interview with the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, saying that it is a time Tunisia had a woman president.

The following are excerpts from these articles and the interview.  

Kuwaiti Writer: Strong Western Democracies Have Women Leaders, Whereas Arab Women Are Still Marginalized

Kuwaiti journalist and academic Dr. Muhammad Al-Rumaihi, a columnist for the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, penned an article titled "This Is the Era of Women's Rule." He wrote that today, the world's most powerful superpowers are governed by "iron women," whereas in Arab countries many people are still opposed to the participation of women in the public domain: and some agree to it only partly "If the term most commonly associated with the Arab woman is 'exclusion,' then the term most commonly associated with women in the West in the 21st century is 'in charge.' If Hillary Clinton is elected president of the United States, which is quite likely to happen, the West's three strongest democracies - the U.S., Germany and the U.K. - will be ruled by women. If [one of] the leading candidates for the next UN secretary general - former prime minister of New Zealand Helen Clark or her rival, UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova - [are elected to this position],  this will complete the circle of women leaders that characterize this era. The era [of women leaders] began in the 2000s, when women attained the top positions in Finland, Latvia and Panama, following precedents in Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Israel and Sri-Lanka...

"Considering that [today's] world is characterized by uncertainty, civil wars and immense economic pressures, and [considering that] the West is turning towards the extreme right, and is ruled by women who mostly want to be seen as "iron women," we may witness a world that is very different from the one we are used to: a world where international relations are no longer shaped by 'the wisdom of men' but rather by 'the rigidity of women.' Only the Arab woman has no consolation, and will continue to drag herself, disappointed, between those who agree [only] partially to her participation in the public domain and those who flatly oppose it... And after all this we [still] wonder why we lag behind?..."[1]     

Egyptian Writer: When Will We See A Woman At The Head Of An Arab State?

Egyptian journalist 'Amr 'Abd Al-Sami', also a columnist for Al-Ahram, stated that women are qualified to serve in the highest positions, and wondered when this will happen in the Arab world. He wrote: "Theresa May, Britain's new prime minister and head of the Conservative Party, is part of a formidable array of 23 women who govern countries around the world, including Germany and [in the future] perhaps the U.S. [Theresa May] is also part of a vociferous and combative [group of] women in Britain itself, which involves Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the Scottish National Party, who is demanding a new referendum on Scottish independence. Another faction in this conflict [over Britain's future] consists of senior Labor member Angela Eagle... and Leanne Wood, head of the Party of Wales, which calls for [Welsh] independence from Britain...

 "Witnessing the explosive expansion of women's [presence] in politics, I wonder when we will see an Arab woman presiding over one of our own societies, which are traditionally described as patriarchal societies... We have had women ministers, deputy prime ministers, national security advisors and members of parliament, but we have not had a woman president or vice president. Does this reflect a flaw in Arab societies? [If so,] what are the ways to address it and breach the barriers that we still place around women, although women [are able] to serve in the most important roles, if given a chance[?]"[2]  

'Al-Hayat' Columnist: Arab Women Are Better Than Arab Men, Should Attain Positions Of Leadership

Jihad Al-Khazen, a Lebanese Journalist of Palestinian origin who writes for the London-based daily Al-Hayat, noted that women have realized the dream of political equality in many countries, but not in the Arab world. He noted that only a handful of Arabs are included in the Forbes list of the 100 most powerful women for 2016, and expressed hope that Arab women would attain positions of leadership. He wrote: "Had women controlled he world, there would have been no wars, and we would have seen fat women happy with their weight.  I jest. [But] the truth is that Germany has Angela Merkel for Chancellor, Britain has Theresa May for prime minister, and the U.S. may have Hillary Clinton for President this November. [Moreover,] a woman is likely to replace Ban Ki-moon as U.N. secretary-general in a few months. In the last year, 22 [of the world's] presidents and prime ministers were women - but not one of them was Arab or Muslim, except Sheikha Hasina Wazed, [prime minister] of Bangladesh...

Forbes list of the 100 most powerful women (, June 6, 2016) 

"When Hillary Clinton was appointed secretary of state during Obama's first [term in office], there were 25 women ambassadors in Washington. Among them were two [Arab women] representing Oman and Bahrain. [But] it should be noted that the Bahraini ambassador, Huda Nonoo, was Jewish, and former Bahraini ambassador to London Alice Samaan was Christian. In my estimate, fewer than 60 of the 193 UN member states have had a woman president or prime minister, which means that women are attaining political equality in a third of the world's countries - but again, none of these countries are Arab.

"There are many lists dealing with women and their roles in various domains. I follow the [Forbes] list of the 100 most powerful women, year after year. [This year's list] has Angela Merkel in first place, Hillary Clinton in second, [American economist and Chair of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors] Janet Yellen in third and [American businesswoman and philanthropist] Melinda Gates, [the wife of Bill Gates,] in fourth. I noticed that many of the top spots in the list are occupied by American women in the domain of technology, and I suspect that some of them owe [their prominence] to their husbands, not to their own creativity or innovation.

"In any case, Sheikha Lubna Al-Qasimi, the UAE State Minister for Tolerance, attained the 43th place on the list..., and [Saudi Businesswoman] Lubna Al-Olayan is in 63rd place [sic].[3] [Al-Olayan] is the daughter of the late Suleiman Al-Olayan and is deserving of every honor. [UAE businesswoman] Raja Easa Al-Gurg is in the 91st place, which means that there are two women from the UAE on this list.

"Arab women are better than the Arab men - that is my opinion. I expect them to attain positions of leadership in our countries..."[4]

Head Of The National Union Of Tunisian Women: It's Time We had A Woman President'

The head of the National Union of Tunisian Women, Radhia Jerbi, said in an interview with Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that in Tunisia women successfully carry out senior management roles, adding that it was time they also held high office, even the position of president. She stated that Beji Caid Essebsi's appointment of a male prime minister shows that he still considers women incapable of occupying this prominent position. She called on Tunisian prime minister-designate Youssef Chahed to fulfill his commitment to increase the number of positions reserved for women in his new government.

She wrote: "We are in favor of appointing women to the role of prime minister or other senior state positions, because Tunisian women excel in several domains, including the management of public affairs in the country, and they have [proved] to be very capable of changing the power balance, especially since the revolution... Unfortunately, however, the mentality in Tunisia is still patriarchal, and [people]  still assume that the positions of prime minister and president are reserved for men... In a speech, the prime minister stressed that his new government would include a high proportion of women: eight or nine portfolios. We are still waiting, and hoping that he will not suffice with [appointing] women ministers but will also [appoint] women as regional governors and CEOs of public [companies]..."[5]

Radhia Jerbi (Source:




[1] Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 7, 2016.

[2] Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 21, 2016.

[3] Lubna Al-Olayan is in fact in the 65th place.

[4] Al-Hayat (London), August 7, 2016.

[5] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), August 12, 1016.

Share this Report: