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Egypt as a Woman

Egypt as a Woman: Nationalism, Gender, and Politics

Beth Baron
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 302
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppc6z
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  • Book Info
    Egypt as a Woman
    Book Description:

    This original and historically rich book examines the influence of gender in shaping the Egyptian nation from the nineteenth century through the revolution of 1919 and into the 1940s. InEgypt as a Woman,Beth Baron divides her narrative into two strands: the first analyzes the gendered language and images of the nation, and the second considers the political activities of women nationalists. She shows that, even though women were largely excluded from participation in the state, the visual imagery of nationalism was replete with female figures. Baron juxtaposes the idealization of the family and the feminine in nationalist rhetoric with transformations in elite households and the work of women activists striving for national independence.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94081-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Unrest broke out in Egypt in March 1919 when the British, who had occupied the autonomous Ottoman province in 1882 and declared it a protectorate at the outset of World War I, arrested and deported leaders of the Wafd (literally, delegation) who sought to present Egyptian demands for independence at peace talks in Paris. Diverse groups in the city and countryside, including urban elite women, staged protests. Inspired by what came to be known as the revolution of 1919, Mahmud Mukhtar sculpted a work calledNahdat Misr(The Awakening of Egypt), which shows a peasant woman lifting her veil from...

  7. PART I. Images of the Nation

    • CHAPTER ONE Slavery, Ethnicity, and Family
      (pp. 17-39)

      The origins of nations have been intensely debated by scholars. A consensus has emerged among most historians that nations are “constructed,” “invented,” or “imagined” in the modern period.¹ Yet they are not invented from thin air. Rather, nationalists are bound by the cultural materials at hand, the ethnicities on the ground, and socioeconomic circumstances. Some “ethnies” develop into nations, others are absorbed into a larger national project, and still others languish or disappear.² Gender analysis challenges some of the presumptions about the construction of nations and argues that gender is crucial in the production and reproduction of ethnic and national...

    • CHAPTER TWO Constructing Egyptian Honor
      (pp. 40-56)

      All nations, it seems, have a national honor to defend. Yet just as nations are not givens, but rather communities built around ethnic, economic, linguistic, religious, and other ties, so too national honor must be seen as a modern construct and a crucial element in the making of collective memory. Nationalists worked at promoting a sense of national honor using the cultural materials and social relations at hand. The concept thus had distinct resonances and a broad range of meanings depending on the region and period. Knowing more about national honor and the notions upon which it is based should...

    • CHAPTER THREE Nationalist Iconography
      (pp. 57-81)

      A nation is an abstraction. That is, it has no material form. Yet ever since the rise of nationalism, the nation has been represented visually. The nation is thus an “imagined community” that is sometimes imagined in human form.¹ The purposes of this iconography are clear: images of the nation were meant to reaffirm the unity of the collective and give the concept of nationhood greater immediacy. In societies such as those of the Middle East, they were also meant to disseminate the idea of nationalism to broad segments of the population who remained illiterate. When the nation was personified,...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Photography and the Press
      (pp. 82-102)

      A nation is made up of a multitude of people who have never seen the vast majority of their compatriots. “It isimagined,” Benedict Anderson tells us, “because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” Anderson points to the importance of print culture and newspapers in building that “imagined political community.”¹ Here we turn to a modern medium that suited the enterprise of nation-building and allowed members of the nation to see, if not...

  8. PART II. The Politics of Women Nationalists

    • CHAPTER FIVE The “Ladies’ Demonstrations”
      (pp. 107-134)

      Elite Egyptian women entered the collective memory and political history of Egypt when, in March 1919, a week into the unrest that came to be known as the revolution of 1919, they staged their own demonstrations.¹ A mythology has grown up around the event, which has received attention in scores of Arabic and English texts and has achieved iconic stature. Memories of the “ladies’ demonstration” were preserved and shaped through both literary vehicles and visual devices. The “ladies’ demonstration” of March 1919 comes to be one of the most prominent symbols of revolution in the nationalist repertoire.

      Collective memory helps...

    • CHAPTER SIX Mother of the Egyptians
      (pp. 135-161)

      Safiyya Zaghlul, wife of the Wafdist leader Sa‘d Zaghlul, was on hand in March 1919 when her house was the focus of demonstrations, and she signed the women’s petitions delivered to foreign consuls. After the revolution of 1919, she became widely known as “Mother of the Egyptians.” Her title built on the nationalist role cast for elite women from the turn of the century as “Mothers of the Nation.” First among the mothers, she became a popular nationalist symbol. At the same time, she wielded a great deal of power within Wafdist and nationalist politics and became a central force...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Partisans of the Wafd
      (pp. 162-188)

      The Wafd spearheaded the nationalist movement, and most Egyptian nationalists—male and female—fell in behind the “party of the nation.” Elite women attempted to secure a political niche for themselves by founding an auxiliary party organization—the Women’s Wafd—and by starting political periodicals that supported the Wafd. Yet these women wanted more than a symbolic role. In the wake of the revolution, the “lady demonstrators” of March 1919 sought to share the nationalist stage with male politicians. They wanted to be taken seriously as political actors and to push women’s political culture in new directions.

      This chapter cuts...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Path of an Islamic Activist
      (pp. 189-214)

      The politics of Labiba Ahmad (1870s–1951) diverged from those of many of her female contemporaries. Most endorsed the secularism of the Wafd, the Liberal Constitutionalists, and other like-minded parties, although the attempts of these parties to divorce religion from politics was never complete, and their support for women’s participation in the public domain was often more rhetorical than real. Labiba, by contrast, favored the Islamic bent of the Watani Party, with its stress on Muslim brotherhood and gender segregation. She spearheaded a movement that conceptualized women’s rights in Islamic terms and pushed for a fusion of Islam and nationalism,...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 215-220)

    This book opens with the unveiling of the monumental version of Mahmud Mukhtar’s TheAwakening of Egypt. Even though Mukhtar’s sculpture depicts a peasant girl unveiling, contemporary unveiled Egyptian women could not attend the ceremony, suggesting that they were favored as symbols rather than as political actors, and seemingly confirming that the more women appeared in visual culture as representations of the nation, the less they appeared in the public arena. As I have sought to show, however, the relationship of the gendering of the nation to women nationalists was more complex—as was the story ofThe Awakening of...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 221-260)
  11. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 261-276)
  12. Index
    (pp. 277-287)