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Egypt's First Lady Represents New Image

New America Media | 7/13/2012, 2:47 p.m.

(Editorial note: Mohammed Morsi's victory as Egypt's first elected civilian president--and first leader with a PhD--also brings the first traditionally Islamic First Lady.)

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.--The world now knows that Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party became the first civilian elected president in Egypt's long history on June 24. But this isn't the only "first" that Morsi has brought to the Egyptian political landscape.

Morsi is the first Islamist to get to the presidential palace. He is the first Egyptian president with Mohammed as an actual first name--although Hosni Mubarak and Anwar Sadat injected "Mohammed" into their names for Islamic flavor.

Also, he is the first Egyptian president to hold a PhD degree, which he earned in engineering at the University of Southern California (USC). And he is the first president to win a competitive election, where Egyptians had--for the first time--the opportunity to choose from more than one candidate.

Her Fashion Statement -- A Full Hajib

An additional "first" that has garnered attention from the West -- especially among Americans -- is that Morsi's wife, as the First Lady, is also the first to wear an abaya, the traditional Islamic dress and full coverage hijab.

Her name is Najla Mahmoud. Born in Cairo in 1962, she is Mohammad Morsi's first cousin (don't panic, they do it in Texas) and married Morsi in 1979. The couple has four sons and a daughter.

Egypt's new First Lady lived in the United States with her husband while he studied at USC. She has been an active member of the Brotherhood for many years running multiple charity projects, particularly in the field of education, and she worked as a translator at the same time.

Even by Egyptian standards she is a very different First Lady.

The new First Lady received a fair amount of ridiculous coverage from Egyptian liberal media and so-called secular Egyptians. Some even questioned if she is "really fit to represent Egypt." Her image has become the subject of a rancorous debate on Egyptian websites and in newspapers.

A column in the newspaper El Fagr asked sarcastically, "How could she receive world leaders and still adhere to her traditional Islamic standards of modesty?" The paper added, "Don't look at her. Don't shake hands with her," in stating that her new status presents a "comic scenario."

Traditionally the role of the Egyptian First Lady is an invisible one. The past First Lady, Suzanne Mubarak, lived in Hosni Mubarak's shadow, running charity organizations and meeting dignitaries.

According to a recent interview in Egyptian press, the new First Lady does not even like the title. She told the media, "Islam taught us that the next president is the first servant of Egypt, this means that his wife is also the servant of Egypt. Any title that has been forced upon us must be gone with. It should disappear from my political and social dictionary."

Everybody's Mother

Mahmoud sees herself first in the woman's foremost traditional role as a mother. She admitted that she preferred to be called 'Em Ahmed' (mother of Ahmed, her eldest son) above any other title.

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