I have a piece in Al Masry Al Youm today that looks at different strands of Egyptian feminism (and alternatives to feminism) through the lens of women’s memoirs and novels. It particularly examines the following books:
Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist, by Huda Shaarawi, trans. Margot Badran
Distant View of a Minaret and Other Stories, by Alifa Rifaat, trans. Denys Johnson-Davies
Memoirs from the Women’s Prison, Nawal al-Saadawi, trans. Marilyn Booth
The Golden Chariot, Salwa Bakr, trans. Dinah Manisty
The Tent, Miral al-Tahawy, trans. Anthony Calderbank
The first modern Egyptian feminists—like Shaarawi and her compatriot Safia Zaghloul—could indeed be an inspiration to women today, as their activism was born in the cauldron of nationalist struggle against a corrupt and illegal (colonial) regime. Other women writers, such as Alifa Rifaat and Miral al-Tahawy, offer other ways to approach female characters and gender constructs. Ghada Abdel Aal’s I Want to Get Married! also presents a different way forward.
And, since clearly we need a strong dose of women authors, I’ll suggest other books by seven strong Egyptian women writers as gifts for the men and women you know:
Latifa al-Zayyat (1923-1966), The Open Door
Radwa Ashour, (1946 – ), Specters
Ahdaf Soueif, (1950 – ), In the Eye of the Sun
Amina Zaydan, (1966 – ), Red Wine
Iman Mersal, (1966 – ), These Are Not Oranges, My Love
Mansoura Ezz Eldin, (1976 – ), Maryam’s Maze
Ghada Abdel Aal (1978 – ), I Want to Get Married!
So You May See, by Mona Prince (1970 – ), translated by Raphael Cohen. The promotional text promises, “Passion, unconventional romance, and the determination of a strong female character to live her life freely.” April 2011, AUC Press.