Could this be the (Unseen) Face of the Next First Lady of Egypt?

Published April 4th, 2012 - 06:13 GMT
Azza Al Shater: This woman could be Egypt's next First Lady
Azza Al Shater: This woman could be Egypt's next First Lady

Could this Niqab-donning conservative wife, mother and grandma be the next 'face' of Egypt's First Lady? With her husband Khairat Al Shater claiming his position in the presidential race, anything is possible.

It has not been long since the Al Shater family last visited their father Khairat Al Shater in Egypt's notorious Torah prison’s visiting hall. He was released based on a medical pardon right after the fall of ex President Husni Mubarak’s regime.

Attention has turned once more to this family, including a wife, 8 daughters, 2 sons and 16 grandchildren, as they enter the spotlight of Egypt's presidential race.

The Muslim Brotherhood nominated Khairat Al Shater for the next presidential elections just this week. If things go the Muslim Brotherhood way, the Al Shater family could become the next first family for Egypt, set to reside in Abdeen Palace as of June 30.

Khairat Al Shater is married to Azza Ahmad Tewfik, both engineers, although Azza discontinued her engineering career to support her husband and several charities. She is mother to 10 'Muslim brothers' and sisters. The family was last seen all together during his military trial.

Sources close to Khairat say that he does not encourage polygamy. That is not say that he is as liberal as some other candidates who have raised concern.

Behind every Muslim Brother, A Sister

Azza Ahmad Tewfik, wife of Khairat Shater, is known by other female members of the Brotherhood as the culturally familiar "Hajja Azza". Born in 1952 in the district of Fayoum north of Al Saeed, May 1952, Azza's father was also an engineer. She graduated from the school of Engineering at the University of Alexandria, the same faculty to which her that her now husband and potential President. She later pursued further studies in Islamic teachings, earning herself a merit.

A Match Made in Heaven

While the two were at the same university, she was an active member in the Islamic student council of the Muslim Brotherhood. She met Kheirat through his sister Fatimah who is married to Dr. Mahmud Al Ghuzlan, the official spokesperson for the Brotherhood. The two budding engineers with a mutual dedication to Islam were married by 1974.

The family born from this faithful union has grown tightknit and solid. In a previous interview conducted with the Al Shater family, by the Egyptian independent newspaper “AL Fajer”, Radwa, the youngest of the girls revealed that, “She tried to postpone her wedding as much as she could, while her father was still at prison.” She went on to elaborate, “I used to cry and would refuse to go out and meet my suitor, because I could not accept the fact that my father was not around at this time”.

Keeping it in the Family

Instead, the suitors for his eight daughters would respectfully go and meet this revered Daddy in prison, enduring all the necessary security procedures. The Shater family had by now grown accustomed to this rigorous procedure with every visit. They had to clear their fiances visitation rights with security. Khairat only managed to attend 2 from the 8 daughters' weddings - the lucky pair's, Seema and Hafsa's - special days . Security forces permitted him to leave prison 3 times for his daughters' Islamic marriage or katib el kitab ceremonies. Among these were his eldest daughter's marriage, Zahra, to Ayam Abdul Ghani an engineer and well known leader in the Brotherhood.

Shater did not stipulate that his sons-in-law be from the Brotherhood. However, the suitors were usually associated with the Brotherhood or otherwise of religious leanings without political affiliations. Al Shater’s wife was usually the first to meet with the suitors. Her criteria for accepting them was that they had the full consent from their families that they are to wed s daughter of Khairat Al Shater who was imprisoned in connection to the military trials of the Muslim Brotherhood. While some embraced this blessed match, others were less inclined to give their daughters over to such an entanglement.

Wife Azza wears the Niqab which, contrary to common opinion, is not the preferred apparel for female members of the Brotherhood. One daughter volunteers that her father did not really like his daughters to wear the Niqab, for practical considerations and the belief that it hinders missionary work and freedom of movement.

Woman thy name is vanity?

Azza discloses that this garment issue was the fundamental juncture at which the couple disagreed, but given his 'compromising' personality, husband Khairat understood her insistence on donning this full veiled attire. In 1995, she decided to wear the Niqab after Khairat was arrested. At this point, she was forced to deal daily with men with her husband behind bars. This led to Khairat's consensus while opening the back door to Niqab-wear in the Shater family. Three of his daughters had very soon followed 'suit' and adopted it, together with his sister, Fatimah.

Azza, who hails from a prominent family in Al Fayoum, lost her mother at the tender age of 10. Her mother’s death caused her to dote on her famous engineer father, making him the center of her world. She wanted to become like him to the extent that she used to write her name on her text books in prep school as 'engineer Azza Ahmad Tewfik'. This transpired into her own self-fulling prophecy when she attended engineering school in Alexandria. Leading her to the other engineering revered man in her life.

The Brotherhood was widespread across all universities of Egypt at the time. Azza shone as one of the brightest members at the University of Alexandria. A fitting match, for at the same time Khairat Al Shater - two years her senior- was a luminary of the Islamic activists at the university. After their marriage, Azza started to prioritize between her life and her dreams, even though Khairat never objected to her work as a civil engineer during their engagement. She had made up her mind that she would abandon her childhood dream after noticing- in her opinion- that it conflicted with her life as a religious woman. She decided to occupy herself with her fledgling family which grew to become the empire it is today of the whopping 8 girls, 2 boys and 16 grandkids.

Azza and her man are emotionally in synch as attested by a healthscare: When Shater got word while serving his sentence that she was in a partial coma, suspecting a stroke, his health deteriorated as well. In 1981 the course of the initial core of the family chartered between Saudi and Yemen, until a move to England, when Shater was granted a scholarship for a PhD.

A Career Wasted in Jail

Starting 1992, Khairat Al Shater was variously imprisoned between the "Salsabeel" case, military charges 1995, then again in 2001. He was sentenced to 7 years in 2006 for Al Azhar’s militia activity. His money and assets were all confiscated.

One daughter Mariam graduated with a degree in Economics and Political Sciences, while her father was on trial for the military charges case. Zahra, the eldest was lucky to have paternal support to guide her through her studies. He would summarize the subjects of her studies in his own handwriting between visits. He stayed into the night, helping her plan her graduation project.

This same Daddy's girl, still has the letter from her father to her on her wedding night. He congratulates her and apologizes for not being able to be with her for the special occasion. Aisha recounts how her father “spent” time with her, from his cell for the occasion of her matrimony. She used to write him to keep him involved in the momentous occasions, sparing no detail, and sharing reels of paper with him on her visits. In turn he would prepare his reply on consecutive visits.



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