Blaming Egypt’s former first lady, Suzan, for the fall of her husband, former president Hosni Mubarak, all the 13 candidates vying for the country’s top job have vowed not to allow their spouses to keep a high profile in state affairs.
“If I win, I will not keep the first lady tradition at all,” said Amr Mousa, a front-runner in Egypt’s presidential elections beginning on May 23.
“One of the reasons for people’s dissatisfaction with the Mubarak regime was the powerful role played by his wife in public affairs,” Mousa, Egypt’s former foreign minister, said.
Mousa is married to Laila Badwai, who is not often seen in public despite her interest in promoting environmental protection.
The opposition has accused Susan Mubarak, 71, of meddling in state affairs and wasting public mone y during her husband’s rule of nearly 30 years. But no charges have been formally made against her since a popular revolt toppled Mubarak in February last year.
The former president has been charged with involvement in ordering the killing of protesters during the 18-day uprising against his rule. His two sons, Ala’a and Jamal, are facing charges of graft and influence peddling. Verdicts in their cases are to be given on June 2.
“If I win, my wife will not be involved in politics,” said Hamdeen Sabahi, an independent presidential hopeful. “What has happened to Mubarak and his family will make the next president strictly committed to the law and the constitution where there is nothing mentioned about the role of the so-called first lady,” he added.
“The absolute powers wrested by Mubarak’s wife, including her influence on and interference in his decisions, have given a bad idea on the role of any new president’s spouse,” he said.
Sabahi has been married for more than 30 years to Seham Nejm, a founder of a non-governmental group promoting women’s rights and literacy. She is also a Unesco adviser on education. “But as a president, I will not prevent my wife from pursuing activities in social work and improving the life quality for the disadvantaged classes,” said Sabahi, a father of two.
The Egyptians first knew about the title of the first lady in the era of late president Anwar Al Sadat who ruled Egypt from 1970 to 1980. His wife Jihan was engaged in social work. Still, the Sadats were apparently careful to exclude their children from politics.
Under Mubarak, his wife,  a holder of a master’s degree in sociology, was often seen heading meetings of governmental and non-governmental organisations, including the National Centre for Motherhood and Child and the Egyptian Red Crescent.
She also launched the “Reading for All” programme in conjunction with the state publishing house, the Egyptian General Book Organisation, printing books in different disciplines and making them available to the public for reasonable prices.