Egypt's first lady shy of the media
While Egypt’s president-elect Abdul Fattah al-Sissi is basking in a cult-like status, little is known about his wife.
The only time she was seen in public, after her husband was named defence minister in August 2012, was at a ceremony held in February this year for retired army officers. Intassar Amer, who will be officially Egypt’s first lady this month, is known to be indifferent to the limelight.
In her only public appearance earlier this year before al-Sissi launched a presidential bid, she wore the hijab or a headgear for Muslim women. She sat quietly next to her husband. Her presence was dedicated by military rules that oblige senior commanders and their wives to attend key army ceremonies, according to military sources.
Al-Sissi has been riding a wave of popularity in Egypt since he led the military’s ouster of Islamist president Mohammad Mursi last July. In a recent interview, al-Sissi, 59, referred to his wife, but without naming her. “I had loved her since I was a secondary school student,” said al-Sissi rather demurely. “I promised her to propose to her after obtaining the secondary school certificate. We got married after my graduation from the Military Academy in 1977.”
During his campaigning for Egypt’s top post, al-Sissi deliberately canvassed female voters with his repeated praise of their role in national changes. “I have a big dream for Egypt, which will not come true without women’s assistance,” he said. Women are believed to have made up the majority of those who overwhelmingly voted for al-Sissi in last week’s presidential polls.
Al-Sissi won the election, Egypt’s first since Mursi’s overthrow, with more than 96 per cent of the valid votes, according to unofficial results. His wife has made no public comment.
The new first lady, is believed to be in her fifties, is a dedicated housewife and mother.She is related to al-Sissi and they have four children — one daughter named Aya, who is a Navy Academy graduate. The three boys are Mustafa, an employee at the state-run Administrative Oversight Authority; Mahmoud an intelligence officer; and Hassan an oil engineer. With her tendency for shunning limelight, Egypt’s new first lady is unlikely to play a high-profile role in the country’s politics. Intassar believes that a wife’s role is to support her spouse and children to achieve success, close sources said.
Egyptians came to hear about the title of “Egypt’s first lady” in the early 1970s when Anwar al-Sadat became the head of the state following the death of iconic president Jamal Abdul Nasser whose wife, Tahia, was rarely seen in public. Al-Sadat’s wife, Jihan, was known for her social activism and promotion of women’s status. She allegedly pushed for the issuance of a controversial set of pro-women legislation.
The first lady’s involvement in the state affairs became unmistakable under president Hosni Mubarak, who succeeded Al Sadat and ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years until a 2011 uprising forced him to step down. The opposition accused Mubarak, now being tried on charges of involvement in protester deaths and corruption, of giving his wife Suzan a free rein in influencing the state’s decisions and grooming their younger son, Jamal, to succeed him.
Najla, wife of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mursi, who ruled Egypt for just one year, spurned the title of the “first lady” and rarely appeared in public during his troubled presidency. Al-Sissi is expected to be inaugurated on Saturday, becoming Egypt’s fifth president drawn from the military since a 1952 army-led revolution ended monarchy.