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The woman who wants to be Egypt's first female president

By Catriona Davies, for CNN
updated 6:09 PM EDT, Fri September 16, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bothaina Kamel plans to stand as Egypt's first female presidential candidate
  • She is an outsider to forerunners Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa
  • Kamel is a news presenter who once resigned from state television

(CNN) -- During a protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square a month after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, Bothaina Kamel spotted a slogan supporting womens' right to be president of Egypt.

She said: "At that moment, I thought we shouldn't just be saying that, we should be putting it into practice."

A month later, Kamel announced she was to become Egypt's first female presidential candidate for elections expected to be held early next year.

Kamel, 49, is not new to the spotlight in Egypt. She is a television presenter and political campaigner who once resigned from her job as a newsreader on state television because she did not believe the news she was reading.

At first people were shocked, and after that they took me lightly, but now they are taking me more seriously
Bothania Kamel

She is an outsider to heavyweight candidates such as Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Amr Moussa, former secretary general of the Arab League, but Kamel believes her campaign is gaining momentum.

Although no date has yet been set for the election, Kamel, is already touring the country in an attempt to reach the people she says have been forgotten by the political elite of Cairo.

She admits she does not have a budget like the mainstream candidates, or the entourage of bodyguards, but claims to have an army of passionate supporters meeting her wherever she goes.

"From the day I announced my candidacy we have achieved a lot," she said. "We have moved through the villages and brought the revolution to all of Egypt, not just the big cities."

Describing herself as a social democrat, Kamel has made it her mission to listen to grievances of minorities.

She said: "I promise by the election I will be the most informed of the candidates about the Egyptian people. I know the demands of the Bedouin, the people of Upper Egypt, the Coptic Christians, the workers and different groups from all parts of the country."

Kamel believes the hard graft is paying off and winning her acceptance as a woman candidate.

She said: "At first people were shocked, and after that they took me lightly, but now they are taking me more seriously.

"They told me the Egyptian people can't accept a woman president but now they accept me.

"The stereotype of Egyptians is that they won't vote for a woman, but people will vote for someone who can help them. If I'm ready to help people, they will vote for me. People are very practical."

They told me the Egyptian people can't accept a woman president but now they accept me
Bothania Kamel

Kamel's career in radio and television began soon after she graduated from Cairo University, where she was active in student politics.

For six years, she hosted a late-night radio show called "Night Confessions" before it was abruptly suspended in 1998.

She went on to host a television show called "Argook Efhamni" -- or "Please Understand Me" -- for the Saudi-owned Orbit network for 10 years, before that too was taken off air earlier this year.

In 2005, Kamel and two other women founded a movement called "Shayfeen," or "We Are Watching You" to observe Egypt's first multi-party elections, and made a documentary about their efforts.

She is now putting together a documentary of the same name about her experiences on the campaign trail, and is accompanied by a cameraman wherever she goes.

The slogan for Kamel's campaign -- Egypt is My Agenda -- stems from her experience during the 18 days of Egypt's revolution in January and February this year.

"When we were in Tahrir Square, the official media said we were part of a foreign agenda, so I chose the slogan 'Egypt Is My Agenda.'"

That revolution is still a work in progress, according to Kamel, who is vocal in her criticism of interim government, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Politics under the Mubarak regime was thugs and black deals, so I want to work to build new values for Egypt
Bothania Kamel

She said: "I know that we have just started a revolution, we haven't made a revolution yet. There's a lot more to do.

"It's still possible that we will see the blood coming, like in Libya and Syria because the army council wants to stay and try to kill the revolution, and one of the dirty schemes is to put the Egyptian people in a helpless state economically.

"Now the Egyptians can't feel good from the revolution."

Such strong words don't make her popular with everyone, but her calls for a complete change in politics resonate with many.

Walid Kazziha, professor of politics at the American University of Cairo, said she is well-known among young people, a familiar face in Tahrir Square during the revolution and famously outspoken, particularly in her criticism of the military council.

He said: "On one occasion she was being interviewed on national TV after the revolution and when she criticized the military council the interviewer announced that he got orders to terminate the interview from his superiors."

Young people -- much credited with bringing about Egypt's revolution -- are central to Kamel's philosophy.

"What we need is not only a political revolution but also a social revolution," she said. "Politics under the Mubarak regime was thugs and black deals, so I want to work to build new values for Egypt."

She added: "I believe in tolerance and dialogue between the generations. I tell the elders we must respect our sons and daughters and take them seriously."

Kamel, a divorcee with one daughter, has just remarried. Her wedding to the activist judge Ashraf El Baroudi, a campaigner for judicial independence, slotted in between campaigning, trips abroad to speak at conferences on women's issues and studying law part-time at university.

The wedding was the day after Kamel's telephone interview with CNN. A few days later she flew to Kenya for a summit of African women.

"I'm always busy," she said. "It's important to keep learning."

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