Lit & Found: Four Editorials by Doria Shafik, in Translation

Four editorials by Doria Shafik (1908-1975), translated by ArabLit Quarterly contributor Tom Abi Samra, are now online, published in Duke University Press’s journal Meridians.

All four editorials appeared in Shafik’s magazine Bint al-Nil (Daughter of the Nile) between 1948 and 1957, the year the magazine was shut down. Bint al-Nil was part of a wider organization that, as David D. Kirpatrick wrote in a profile of Shafik “Overlooked No More,” “ran literacy classes, an employment agency, mutual aid programs, a discounted cafeteria and cultural events, including theatrical performances for women.”

The four editorials showcase both Shafik’s sarcastic wit and her concerns. In “Is It a Mirage,” published in November 1948, Shafik (tr. Abi Samra), writes: “With the rush of time, in Egypt, universities are established; academies are opened; train carriages are equipped with air-conditioning; various signs of civilization permeate most households; many of us become women lawyers, doctors, and soldiers; and even the most prominent of religious men in Egypt support our demands for equity. It is bizarre, O God, that despite all of this, there are some. . .

. . . who stand in our way.”

Like a number of earlier champions of women’s suffrage, she makes her rhetorical point by contrasting the educated woman exercising her political rights with the “illiterate carpenter who fingerprints the voting ballot.”  Although when only literate women won the right to vote in January 1956, Shafik fought against that new inequality. 

Two of the other editorials that appear in Meridians are similarly focused on women’s rights — “The Problems of the Egyptian Family,” from January 1951 and “Our Goals and Strategies,” from February of that year — with a final May 1957 editorial, “Communist Colonialism,” which changes focus. This was one of her last missives, apparently sparked by a book that chronicles the Soviet repression of the Hungarian popular uprising of 1956.

This editorial came a few months after Shafik’s February 1957 hunger strike, during which she demanded, in part, that Egyptian authorities end the authoritarian rule that “is driving our country towards bankruptcy and chaos.”

After the hunger strike, Shafik was placed under house arrest, yet she continued to write and publish editorials through the spring of that year. The penultimate was “Communist Colonialism”; soon after, The government ruled “that her editorials would deter cordial relations between Egypt and her communist allies during this very critical period,” and banned her from publishing the magazine, Abi Samra writes in his introduction to the four translated editorials. 

In her final days, Nadeen Shaker writes in The Cairo Review, Shafik had turned to poetry. In Shaker’s translation: “Daughter of the Nile/I have demanded women’s rights/My fight was enlarged to human freedom/And what was the result?/I have no more friends/So what?/Until the end of the road/I will proceed alone.” 

Read all four editorials online at Meridians.

From the New York Times: Overlooked No More: Doria Shafik, Who Led Egypt’s Women’s Liberation Movement

From The Cairo Review: Daughter of the Nile