Throughout history, female writers have been changing the rules, breaking barriers, and challenging the status quo through their writings. And for centuries, Egyptian women have been using their pen as a weapon for change; to address the social and political issues, using their own female voice and their own experiences hoping that the public will listen to them.
Writing is a very liberating and powerful act in and of iteslf! Here are the Egyptian women who used the power of writing and thought to create a positive change in the public sphere.
Huda Shaarawy (1879-1947)
Huda Shaarawy is a true feminist icon, she was heavily involved in numerous nationalist movements of her time. She was very politically active to an extent that she herself organized one of the largest women’s demonstrations against Britain’s colonialism. Also, she for the first time organized lectures on academic subjects for women as an attempt to bring them out of their homes into the public places. I recommend you read her memoir on her early life story, “Harem Years: The Memories of an Egyptian Feminist”.
Latifa Al-Zayyat (1923-1996)
She’s the founding member of the Rabitat Fatyat Al-Jami’at Wa Al-Ma’had (The League of University and Institutes’ of Young Women) Latifa wrote one of the most famous novels in the Egyptian history that pioneered women’s rights. It was Al-Bab Al-Maftouh (The Open Door), which was later turned into a film starring the Egyptian Actress Faten Hamama.
The film was thought to be a break from our traditional Arabic literature. The way it used informal Arabic language in its script and how bold it was depicted the political and sexual awakening in its main characters right after the 1952 revolution.
Radwa Ashour (1946-2014)
She’s one of the most influential and passionate writers of her time. In 2004, she co-edited a four-volume book on Arab women writers along with many other books. Those include seven novels, five criticism books, and two short stories collection.
Her work is known to be close to Latifa Al-Zayat’s work on how it sheds light on women’s experiences in our society. One of her best works of art is, “Farag”, which initially was thought to be about a man but then once you read it you would actually find a female voice that dominates the entire novel. It was her attempt to make room for women to freely express their voices.
Salwa Bakr (1949-Present)
Salwa is an excellent short story writer; her work usually tackles the lives of women from poorer social classes. She published her first collection of short stories “Zinat at the President’s Funeral” in 1985. Later, she published six additional story collections, a play, and seven novels. She also spoke about the struggle that women face trying to provide for themselves with only basic necessities in “The Wiles of Men and Other Stories”.
Nawal Al-Saadawi (1931-Present)
She is one of the most outspoken radical feminists of our time. In view of the fact that she was subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) at a very young age led her to believe that such action is a product of a patriarchal system that seriously needed to change. She published her book “Women and Sex” in 1972 confronting the many aggressive acts carried out on women’s bodies including, of course, female circumcision.
The book created a lot of controversy leading to the dismissal of her position at the Ministry of Health, as well her position as the chief editor of a health journal.
Miral Al-Tahawy (1970-Present)
An award-winning novelist and short story writer who published her first story collection in 1995. Coming from a very conservative Bedouin background, Miral was described by The Washington Post as “The first novelist to present Egyptian Bedouin life beyond stereotypes”.
In her first novel, “The Tent”, Miral retraced the lives of Bedouin women, whose lives were under the control of one patriarch and his brutal mother. Moreover, her most recent work “Brooklyn Heights”, is considered one of her most critically acclaimed accomplishments; following the hopes, disappointment, and expectations of Hend, a young Egyptian immigrate living in Brooklyn.
Alexandra Kinias (1987-Present)
Although she graduated as a mechanical engineer back in 1987, she was also a screenplay writer, novelist, and a blogger too! She published her first novel, “Black Tulips”, which reveals the hardships women face in a male dominant society. Also, she co-wrote the movie, “Cairo Exit”, that was actually censored in Egypt. However, it got acclaimed internationally as the best non-European film in the European Independent Film Festival.
Alexandra is also the founder of the popular page on Facebook, “Women of Egypt”, that tackles the many issues
Ahdaf Soueif (1950-Present)
According to Harper’s Magazine, Ahdaf is named as one of Egypt’s most talented writers. She’s both a novelist and a politician, as well as cultural commentator and the author of “In the Eye of the Sun”, a highly acclaimed book that looks into the lives of Arab women today.
She’s also the author of “Cairo: My City, our Revolution” which navigates her own personal journey in Cairo through the 25th of January revolution.