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Could Fawzia Koofi be Afghanistan's First Female President?

The search for the next president of Afghanistan is underway. Last fall, Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) slated presidential elections for April 5, 2014. Voter registration started at the end of last month and will continue until two weeks before the day of the vote. Although a list of candidates is still yet to be finalized, some of the names expected on the ballot are already the source of intense discussion.

The vote is significant since it will mark the formal end of current President Hamid Karzai's decade in charge of the country, a period complicated by allegations of corruption and regime collusion with the heroin trade, as well as a glaring failure to make progress in negotiations with the Taliban, who continue [Global Voices Archive] their attacks on civilians and governmental officials. Crucially, the country's next president will have to deal with these security threats without the presence of international forces stationed in the country since 2001.

Among the expected candidates attracting national and international attention are Fawzia Koofi, a member of the Afghan parliament and women's rights activist; Qayyum Karzai, president Hamid Karzai's elder brother, and Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and eye surgeon who was Karzai's main rival in the 2009 presidential elections. The number of candidates is certain to increase as the elections near.

Fawzia Koofi has already begun her campaign via her official website, Facebook page and Twitter account. Western media has flocked to cover her presidential bid and praise her recently published book, “The Favorite Daughter: One Woman's Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future”.

While appearing on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart in February 2013, Koofi talked about struggles in her life and her electoral candidacy, saying she wants to represent the hope of Afghans facing an uncertain future:

It is a choice, I could come to Europe or the US and stay a luxurious life like many other people in this world do or I could stay back in my country and try to contribute to a small change, if I can. And I have decided to go for the second option, although it is not easy.

Koofi's appearance on the Daily Show made for great viewing in America, with one tweep remarking that she had never seen Jon Stewart, the show's motormouth host, so quiet. But Koofi's supporters fear that Afghanistan might not yet be ready for a female president: Koofi has already survived several Taliban assassination attempts, and although female candidates have run for the presidency before, none have come close to a top five finish.

Electoral corruption is another consideration. Abdullah Abdullah pulled out of a run-off with Karzai in the 2009 vote, citing widespread vote-rigging. For many Afghans, the anticipated presence of a Karzai family member on the ballot is an ominous foreshadowing.

Picture of Fawzia Koofi shared via girlsglobe.org.

Picture of Fawzia Koofi taken from DangerDan22.wordpress.com, used with permission

But Koofi's exceptional background, political experience and struggle for causes separates her from previous  female candidates. Her focus on women's rights and fighting corruption, both crucial topics for Afghans, may help her win women's votes and those of Afghans on low incomes. Khorasan (@KhorasanCharity) tweeted on June 5:

She could be the 1st female president of Afghanistan if she manages to stay alive till April '14. She is Fawzia Koofi.

Also on twitter, Greg Mortenson (@gregmortenson), author of the scandal-tainted book “Three Cups of Tea”, asked:

Fawzia Koofi, Afghan female MP seeks presidency 2014 election: Will Afghanistan beat USA – 1st female leader?

But Shuja Rabbani (@ShujaRabbani) noted that Koofi would have to work hard on other aspects of her campaign for her presidential bid to be taken seriously:

#Afghan female politicians will need to find new ways of winning support: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/feb/17/fawzia-koofi-targets-afghan-presidency …#WomenRights can only sell for so long.

Photo of Fawzia Koofi, which reads, "we will build this nation together, if you stay with me. Taken from her Facebook page.

Photo of Fawzia Koofi, which reads, “we will build this nation together, if you stay with me.” Taken from her Facebook page.

The above image is part of Koofi's online campaign on Facebook. Many people have shown their support for her candidacy by commenting on the image.

Abdul Haq AD commented [fa]:

خوب خواهد بود که از طرح های که به خاطر آبادی وطن خوددارید یک کمی ابراز میدا شتید، همچنان راه های برون رفت از مشکلات کنونی. موفق باشید

Wish you luck. It will be great if you could please share your strategies regarding the country's rebuilding and solutions to the current issues of Afghanistan.

Not all comments are encouraging. Abdulrahim Mukhlis wrote [fa]:
آبادي اين سرزمين كه زن ها بماند، مردها بايدازاين سرزمين خارج شوند

If women are put in charge of rebuilding this country, men should leave the country.

Adding to his previous comment, he posted [fa]:
من به اين نظرم كه تا زماني دريك جامعه مردها رشدنكنند زن ها نمي توانند كاري را انجام دهند

I think, in a society until men are not developed and improved, women cannot do anything.

Lastly, to give his comments legitimacy, he included a quote, which reads [fa]:
پيامبراسلام مي فرمايند: سرنوشت ملتي كه بدست زن ها افتيد آن ملت بايد انتظارقيامت ره بكشند

The Prophet said: if a nation's destiny is in women's hands, that nation awaits destruction and disaster.

Abdullah Abdullah, who lost the presidential race against Hamid Karzai in 2009, has not yet officially declared his candidacy. According to some news agencies, he is not certain if he should take the risk again.

Abdullah Abdullah mentioned in April that despite constitutional restraints preventing Hamid Karzai from running, the Karzai family will not give up its power without a fight. It seems Dr. Abdullah's reading of the situation is more or less accurate; while Karzai himself will not be standing, younger brother Mahmoud Karzai sounded out Qayyum Karzai, the oldest of the Karzai brothers, as a likely candidate during an exclusive interview with Pajhwak Afghan News outlet last year:

People vote for the families and individuals whose hands are clean and had no role in war crimes. People have faith in Qayyum Jan and I have good relations with people. They are looking to us and want one of us to stand for the election.

Afghans have negatively reacted to Qayum Karzai's nomination, calling it clan politics. On May 13 Mohammad Jawad (@MohammadJawad4) tweeted sarcastically:

We had very good run with his brother, so now we will vote for him. Karzai's brother to run for president.

To which Sajid Arghandaiwal (@SajidArghandaiw) replied:

If he become a president he will spoil the whole country!

But Mohammad Jawad felt certain:

The general public still will unfortunately go for tribe rather than talent

This post is part of the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

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