Egypt: Islam does not bar women from becoming heads of state, says chief mufti

Gulf Times
Cairo: Egypt’s top cleric declared yesterday that Islam does not bar women from becoming heads of state, denying press reports that had earlier attributed to him the opposite position.
On January 27, the Egyptian state-owned daily Al-Ahram carried a fatwa by chief mufti Sheikh Ali Gomaa saying that Islam forbids women from becoming a head of state because it would require them to lead prayer — something only a man can do.
“This ruling does not refer to the head of a modern state but to the traditional role of Caliph as both secular head of state and imam of the Muslims,” he said in a statement yesterday, referring to a position that was abolished with the fall of the Ottoman empire in 1924.

“The head of state in a contemporary Muslim society, be he a president, prime minister or king, is no longer required or expected to lead Muslims in prayer. Therefore, it is permissible for women to hold the highest office in modern Muslim nations,” he added.

The original fatwa, as carried in the state-owned press, merely said a woman cannot be a “head of state” without specifying whether this applied to traditional or modern leadership positions.

Egypt was the first Arab country to give women the franchise in 1956. However, increasing conservatism in society over the last several decades has slowed their progress in the public sphere.

-AFP, Feb. 05, 2007