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Feminists, Islam, and Nation

Feminists, Islam, and Nation: Gender and the Making of Modern Egypt

Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Feminists, Islam, and Nation
    Book Description:

    The emergence and evolution of Egyptian feminism is an integral, but previously untold, part of the history of modern Egypt. Drawing upon a wide range of women's sources--memoirs, letters, essays, journalistic articles, fiction, treatises, and extensive oral histories--Margot Badran shows how Egyptian women assumed agency and in so doing subverted and refigured the conventional patriarchal order. Unsettling a common claim that "feminism is Western" and dismantling the alleged opposition between feminism and Islam, the book demonstrates how the Egyptian feminist movement in the first half of this century both advanced the nationalist cause and worked within the parameters of Islam.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2143-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-2)
    (pp. 3-28)

    The rise of women’s feminist consciousness in the nineteenth century heralded the beginnings of what in many ways would be the most potent force in the creation of modern Egypt. I refer to women’s coming into an awareness that being born female meant that they would lead their lives very differently from those of similar classes and circumstances who were born male. I refer to women’s questioningwhythis was so, under what authority, andwhatthey started to do about it. Thewhywas the beginning of an analysis of patriarchy—that is, the power men had accorded themselves,...


    • CHAPTER 1 Two Lives in Changing Worlds
      (pp. 31-46)

      Two women born in the late nineteenth century shaped the history of feminism in Egypt in the first half of the twentieth century. Huda Sha‛rawi, whose background was upper-class, led an organized feminist movement. Nabawiyah Musa, of modest middle-class origins, expressed her feminism as a pioneering educator of women. The experiences of these two women reveal the play of class and gender in the construction and reconstruction of their lives.

      Exploring the rise of feminist consciousness during the early formative years of the lives of Huda Sha‛rawi and Nabawiyah Musa is this chapter’s central concern. For Huda Sha‛rawi this period...

    • CHAPTER 2 Claiming Public Space
      (pp. 47-60)

      The period of discreet public activism from the turn of the century to the early 1920s was a critical moment in the history of feminism in Egypt. During this time between the initial stirrings of feminist consciousness in women like Huda Sha‛rawi and Nabawiyah Musa, and indeed many others, and the start of the organized feminist movement, upper- and middle-class women increasingly left confinement in the home to claim new roles in society. They did this while outwardly “respecting” the dictates of harem culture. Most Muslim women continued to veil, but for those with a feminist consciousness the veil became...

    • CHAPTER 3 Thinking Gender
      (pp. 61-73)

      While some women were moving out of confinement in the home into society and creating new public lives, others invaded the larger world mainly through their writing. Some of these women of the pen articulated a new cult of domesticity. Others shaped a feminist ideology.

      We have already noted that upper- and middle-class Christian and Muslim women transcended domestic isolation and anonymity in the final decades of the nineteenth century by publishing books, and how middle-class women of Syrian origin, three Christian and one Jewish, founded their own journals in the 1890s. From 1900 to 1914, women started eighteen more...

    • CHAPTER 4 Egypt for Which Egyptians?
      (pp. 74-88)

      When Egyptian women moved into public space, inventing new roles for themselves or entering “male” professions, they understood their own advancement/liberation as “new women” to be intrinsically connected with the nation’s advancement/liberation. “The new woman” occupied a niche in the nationalist rhetoric of progressive men. Egyptian women’s feminism and nationalism and Egyptian men’s liberal nationalism signaled a united nationalist front during the independence struggle.

      When the First World War ended, Egyptians rose up in demonstrations and strikes—the revolution of 1919—demanding an end to the protectorate imposed on the country at the beginning of the war and a termination...


    • CHAPTER 5 The House of the Woman
      (pp. 91-110)

      With the creation of the Egyptian Feminist Union women began a tradition of independent organized feminist struggle.¹ In the shift from hidden feminist activism—first embedded in new social and professional forays into society and then expressed as part of nationalist militancy—to the beginning of a highly visible organized feminist movement, three things occurred: (1) Feminist leaders removed the veil as a political statement signaling at once a final rejection of female containment and invisibility (harem culture) and their appearance on the scene as feminists; (2) Women for the first time in a highly public and unequivocal way used...

    • CHAPTER 6 City Sisters, Country Sisters
      (pp. 111-123)

      During its first year the EFU began programs for poor women. Some members conducted social service within the framework of the EFU, while others operated through benevolent societies where they worked alongside women who did not identify with feminism.¹ During the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, upper-class women continued to play roles in society through voluntary social service, which remained the major outlet available to upper-class women of ambition and energy who wished to make a mark in public. Middle-class women were freer to experiment. Those inclined to do something less daunting than forging new careers engaged in voluntary social service....

    • CHAPTER 7 Recasting the Family
      (pp. 124-141)

      Women’s feminist consciousness first arose in the context of home and family. Women witnessed and experienced ills as daughters, wives, and mothers. ‘A’ishah al-Taymuriyah described marital miseries in the upper-class family in the 1890s, when men sought fortunes through expedient matches. In 1892 the thirteen-year-old Huda Sha‘rawi had been pressured into marriage with her elder cousin to secure the patrimony. Bahithat al-Badiyah’s father arranged her marriage in 1909 to a wealthy bedouin chief who, unbeknownst to father or daughter, was already married. She wrote about her own anguish and about the sufferings of other women because of divorce and polygamy....

    • CHAPTER 8 Educating the Nation
      (pp. 142-164)

      Education for women at all levels and in all fields was a pivotal goal of the Egyptian feminist movement. No state secondary schools for girls had existed during colonial rule. The first demand was for state secondary schools for girls with the same curriculum as that followed in the schools for boys.

      In promoting education for women feminists continued the process begun in the nineteenth century by the Egyptian state, a process truncated after colonial occupation. If male Egyptians suffered from a lack of state-provided education, female Egyptians had been far more disadvantaged by colonial education policies. Because of a...

    • CHAPTER 9 Women Have Always Worked
      (pp. 165-191)

      In the early 1930s the issue of paid work for women assumed a central place in the feminist campaign. By then, the EFU’s struggle for educational advances had borne first fruit. Egyptian women from the middle class had begun to graduate from state secondary schools and the university, and they were poised to move into new jobs. Indeed some had already taken such employment. Lower-class townswomen and peasant women who had “always worked” found fresh opportunities for salaried employment in the textile factories created in the late 1920s by Bank Misr, the new national bank.

      For a number of reasons...

    • CHAPTER 10 Traffic in Women
      (pp. 192-206)

      The EFU’s battle against state-regulated prostitution raised a host of contentious issues. Feminists brought into the open the double standard, an aspect of patriarchal culture in Egypt that most men felt uncomfortable confronting. The diatribes of conservative men against unveiling, their shrill claims that uncovering the face would lead to women’s immorality, were still fresh when feminists began to spotlight the state-condoned sexual latitude men allowed themselves.

      Under British colonial occupation, the state recognized and regulated prostitution, extending earlier incipient measures of control. Following independence feminists criticized the Egyptian state for condoning prostitution through continued official regulation. Calling prostitution an...

    • CHAPTER 11 Suffrage and Citizenship
      (pp. 207-220)

      Egyptian women had anticipated that when independence came they would enjoy the full rights of citizenship. The new constitution of 1923 confirmed their assumption. Article 3 pronounced the equality of all Egyptians, declaring, “They equally enjoy civil and political rights[emphasis added] and are equally subjected to duties and public obligations without regard to race, language, or religion.” Articles 74 and 82 granted universal suffrage (al-iqtira‘ al-‘amm). Three weeks after the promulgation of the constitution, an electoral law was passed, restricting the right to vote and to be elected to men. On the basis of gender, this lesser law swept...


    • CHAPTER 12 Arab Feminism
      (pp. 223-250)

      The Egyptian feminist movement reached out to other Arabs in the late 1930s and the 1940s. The discourse of Arabism and Islam became more prominent in the articulation of the widening agenda. The EFU played a key role in the institutionalization of pan-Arab feminism, or Arab feminism, as distinct from feminisms in individual Arab nations. The story of Arab feminism is a story of intersections between feminisms and nationalisms—both those identified with individual Arab countries and those transcending territorial boundaries. It is also a story about disjunctures between national feminisms of colonized Eastern countries and Western-dominated international feminism. The...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 251-316)
    (pp. 317-338)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 339-352)