Egypt's first democratically-elected first lady, Naglaa Ali Mahmoud, told The Associated Press today that she is first and foremost a mother, not a lady politician -- rejecting the title for the more traditional "Umm Ahmed," Arabic for mother of Ahmed.
"Who said that the president's wife is the first lady anyways?" she asked AP. (The media organization promptly followed suit, referencing her from then on as Umm Ahmed.)
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Mahmoud, the conservative Muslim wife of Egypt's new president Mohammed Morsi, has already come under attack in local media for her appearance, which critics say is not stately enough.
The lifestyle webzine CairoScene recently published a provocative blog post titled, "Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Morsi?" The anonymously-written piece featured a picture of the veiled Mahmoud, asking: “Is this the woman you want to represent Egypt?” The post has since been removed.
Morsi's wife, 50, wears no make up. Nor does she paint her nails. And the head-scarves she wears tend to be plain, one might even say severe. People say she isn't elegant enough to be representing Egyptian femininity and grace on the world stage.
As is so often the case with religious female attire across the Arab world, the conversation over Mahmoud's choice of dress serves as a proxy for deeper issues within society. Egypt today is divided between those fearful of a more Islamisized country under the leadership of Morsi, the candidate put forward by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, and the nation's large religious population emboldened by his win.
The country has already devolved into "a war of words" over Mahmoud's appearance, said AP, with supporters praising her for dressing like the majority of the nation's women and detractors denouncing what they call her un-diplomatic style.
Even the Muslim Brotherhood jumped in. "As the Muslim Brotherhood, we do not want another first lady for Egypt," former Brotherhood lawmaker Azza al-Gharf told AP. "We want a wife who stands by her husband, but who knows her limits."
Mahmoud holds a high-school diploma and married Morsi at the age of 17. The couple has five children, according to AP.