Women: What Countries are the New Role Models?

Dec 04, 2012

            Women from across the Middle East – from Egypt to Bahrain, Lebanon to Iraq—responded to the following question: Is there another Muslim-majority country that you look to as a model? Why?

Intsar Saed, General Director of Cairo Center for Development

           Turkey is emerging as an important player that developed economically and proved that democracy and Islam are not contradictory. However, the Turkish model is still a work in progress. Despite enacting reforms to join the European Union, it has not finished building its democratic system because of past military interference in governance.

Shatha al Obosi, President of Iraq Foundation for Development and Human Rights

           The United Arab Emirates and Turkey are good models. They have strong economies and do not force women to wear hejab. They are developing with a 21st century mindset. I believe in Islam but I hope that we can develop our country in a modern way. In Islam, there is a principle that states Sharia, or Islamic law, can change depending on the time and place, which influence our lifestyle.

Rowida Omar, Executive Manager of the Egyptian Democratic Academy

           Each country has its own culture, economic situation and demography, which make it difficult to follow a model. I do not look to any particular country that Egypt should emulate, but some have succeeded in specific fields. For example, Indonesia is a member of the Group of 20 major economies. Turkey is successfully fighting corruption and ensuring government accountability. The United Arab Emirates is a regional leader in education and progressive culture. But I cannot find a model for real democracy.

Zinab Kheir, Executive Manager of the Egyptian Association for Economic and Social Rights

           No country could be a model for Egypt. I support a secular state because most Islamist-ruled countries are using fascist methods to deal with citizens who disagree with government policies. Many citizens who wish to live freely emigrate to other places. This happened in Europe during the Middle Ages and recently in Islamist-ruled Afghanistan and Somalia.

Wafa Bani Mostafa, Member of Jordanian Parliament

           I look to Indonesia as a model. It is a democratic, multi-party, presidential republic based on the separation of powers. The legislative, executive and judicial authorities are independent according to its 1945 constitution. Indonesia’s population is also 86 percent Muslim. But the country harmoniously preserves its diverse religions, ethnicities, languages and cultures. For example, citizens elect delegates to represent their respective provinces.

Dr. Amira al Baldawi, Chair of Um al Yateem Foundation, Iraq

           Malaysia is a model Muslim-majority country. Muslims form 60 percent of its population but they coexist with Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and others. Malaysians have a noteworthy ability to avoid conflicts between ethnic groups. Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad worked to unify groups of people with different religions.
            Malaysia also underwent a model scientific, industrial and economic renaissance under Mahathir Mohamad. By the early 2000s, industry and services accounted for nearly 90 percent of GDP. As a result, the number of citizens living below the poverty line fell from 52 percent in 1970 to 5 percent in 2002. The government focused on education, industrialization and social issues, and Malaysians gained the skills to communicate with the outside world. They entered the international labor market, which increased production and reduced unemployment.

Hala al Saraf, Director of Iraq Health Access Program, Iraq

           Turkey is a model Muslim-majority country because its economic policies benefit peoples in the Middle East. For example, Turkey is winning contracts in northern, southern and central Iraq regardless of its past relationship with one ethnic or religious group. It is a voice of neutrality in the region.
           Turkey's democratic domestic system has developed over time and was not imposed by outsiders or a revolutionary regime. The process took decades and the military intervened several times to put the country back on track. But the military gave back power to civil leaders. Iraq can learn lessons from Turkey’s democratic development.
           I respect their Muslim women and how they asserted their roles in mosques and as religious leaders. Female deputy muftis and preachers help less-educated women to understand the correct interpretation of the Koran, which forbids honor killing and other gender-based practices.

Professor Afaf Gadalla, Board Chair for Assiut Alliance for Women, Egypt

           Turkey is a model Muslim-majority country. Science and education are national priorities there. The government enacts effective economic reform and attracts foreign direct investment. Turkey also provides a safe environment for foreigners, which is why many tourists vacation there. There is also less poverty than in many other Muslim countries.

Rawan Yaghi, Educational Director of Teach Women English, Lebanon

           I am so grateful Lebanon is not an Islamist country. I was born a Muslim but what is taking place in the Arab world reminds me of Europe in Middle Ages. Each party thinks it is right, while the others are considered nonbelievers or kuffar. Religion and state should be separated. I don't think any country that takes religion upon itself is worthy to be a state, as Islam is not a religion of democracy in its political terms.
           The international values we have been raised on cannot be guaranteed under a religious law. I respect women’s struggle, especially the strength of Iraqi and Tunisian women. I used to look to them as models before the Arab Spring, but not anymore. In Lebanon we have more liberties in practice than in other Arab countries, although we have few rights under the law.

Esraa Abdelfattah, Coordinator for the Egyptian Democratic Academy

           Turkey is a model for its separation of religion and politics. It was able to ban religious men from intervening in politics and achieve stability. Turkey has enacted exemplary anti-corruption measures and overcame a financial crisis. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey is the perfect model for Islamist parties in Egypt because the AKP does not enforce Islamic laws on citizens.

Athra al Hassani, Director of Model Iraqi Women Organization

           The United Arab Emirates is a good model for other Islamic countries because it is not ruled according to an extremist doctrine. When countries are ruled based on sectarianism, there is no freedom. Extremism is a distortion of Islam based on rituals.

Mariam al Rowaie, Women's rights activist, Former President of the Bahrain Women Union

           Turkey is a model Muslim-majority country. A model should have a low illiteracy rate, especially among women. It should have a strong civil society and a regular transfer of power in government. A model should score well on the corruption index and press freedom index.

Howaida Nagy, Grants Manager at the American Development Foundation, Egypt

           Malaysia and Turkey are models because of significant economic progress achieved during the last decade. Malaysia has one of the best economic records in Asia. Gross domestic product (GDP) grew an average of 6.5 per cent annually from 1957 to 2005. In 2011, the GDP (in purchasing power parity per capita) was about $450 billion, which made Malaysia the third largest economy in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the 29th largest in the world. Through reform policies, Malaysia has become one of the world's largest exporters of information and communication technology products. Also, it has progressive laws protecting women’s rights and equal pay.
            Turkey is a Muslim-majority, democratic, secular, unitary, constitutional republic with a diverse cultural heritage. It has become increasingly integrated with the West through its bid for full membership in the European Union. Turkey has the world's 15th largest GDP (PPP) and the 17th largest nominal GDP. It is a G-20 major economy and founding member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The government has initiated a series of reforms designed to shift the economy from a statist insulated system to a more private-sector, market-based model.

Reham Afifi, Projects Manager of Free Egyptian Women's Speak Up Group

           I don't believe in model countries. People in each country act according to their own beliefs, norms and rules. What works in one country may not work in another. We can learn valuable lessons through studying each country’s unique experience. But we should only enact changes if they comply with our community’s values


Sign up for newsletter here.

In the News

Our Articles

For more articles, click here.


The Islamists Are Coming is the first book to survey the rise of Islamist groups in the wake of the Arab Spring.  Often lumped together, the more than 50 Islamist parties with millions of followers now constitute a whole new spectrum—separate from either militants or secular parties.  They will shape the new order in the world’s most volatile region more than any other political bloc. Yet they have diverse goals and different constituencies. Sometimes they are even rivals.

The Islamists Are Coming

Our Partner