Jihane al-Halafawi's small apartment above a barbershop in Alexandria is exceedingly orderly, a cool oasis on a sweltering summer afternoon. Plant leaves brush up against curtains undulating with the breeze from the nearby Mediterranean. As she walks into the living room with a tray full of cakes and tea, al-Halafawi is the picture of a kindly Egyptian mother, a genuine smile gracing her youthful face. But when this fifty-year-old mother of six and grandmother announced her candidacy for Egypt's parliamentary elections in fall 2000, the state geared up a massive security force outside polling stations; leftists shrugged her off as a “front” for her husband; and state feminists dedicated to the electoral empowerment of women were silent. When Halafawi outperformed her ruling-party rival in the first round, despite rigging, the Interior Ministry promptly stepped in and canceled the results on the pretext of respecting an earlier court ruling postponing the elections.
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