When we think of Egypt many images come to mind: the pyramids, the pharaohs, blatant human rights abuses, tyrants … and of course the 2011 uprising.
But, what we sometimes fail to remember is that the Gift of the Nile is home to some of the Arab world’s most fierce women.
Here’s a list that will serve to remind us of the amazing women who have fought for their country by fighting the patriarchy.
Hoda Shaarawi, the one who took her veil off in public
“Men have singled out women of outstanding merit and put them on a pedestal to avoid recognizing the capabilities of all women"
Hoda Shaarawi was in the forefront of the 1919 revolution against the British, but it wasn’t until 1923 that she would make major headlines.
In a remarkable feat that now defines her legacy, she famously took off her veil in public. Shaarawi’s stunt brought her resentment from the religious establishment, but it inspired a generation to fight for personal and political rights and choices. She stood against polygamy and called for the right to divorce. She also opened a school for girls where she focused on teaching academic subjects rather than practical skills such as midwifery.
Sameera Moussa, the Mother of Atomic Science
“I will make nuclear treatment as available as aspirin”
Also known as the Mother of Atomic Science, Sameera Moussa was born in 1917. She was a nuclear scientist and physicist who dedicated her life to making medical nuclear power affordable to all. Moussa arranged the Atomic Energy for Peace Conference and sponsored a call for setting an international conference under the banner “Atoms for Peace”. She was honored posthumously by the Egyptian Army and then-President Anwar Sadat, after being killed in a car accident that many believe was a planned assassination by the Mossad or other intelligence agencies.
Mona al Tahawy, "the woman explaining Egypt to the West"
“The battles over women's bodies can be won only by a revolution of the mind”
Mona Eltahawy is feminist writer and public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post and others. During the 18-day revolution that toppled Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, Eltahawy was dubbed by Jezebel –a leading feminist website- “the woman explaining Egypt to the West” after she appeared on most major news outlets. According to her website, Egyptian riot police beat her in November 2012, breaking her left arm and right hand. She was also sexually assaulted and detained for 12 hours by the Interior Ministry and Military Intelligence. In 2010, she was ranked the 30th most powerful Arab Woman by Arabian Business. She is the author of “Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution,” released April 2015.
Nawal al Saadawi, the Godmother of Egyptian Feminism
“They said, “You are a savage and dangerous woman.” I am speaking the truth. And the truth is savage and dangerous.”
Also known as Egypt’s Simone Du Beauvoir, and Godmother of Egyptian Feminism, Nawal al Saadawi is a renowned rights activist, author, physician and psychiatrist. She has published many books pertaining to women and Islam, particularly on the practice of female genital mutilation. She has also founded the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association and co-founded the Arab Association for Human Rights. She was imprisoned by the Egyptian government in 1981 after she had helped publish a feminist magazine, titled Confrontation. Of her experience she wrote: "Danger has been a part of my life ever since I picked up a pen and wrote. Nothing is more perilous than truth in a world that lies." She has called for the abolition of religious instruction in the Egyptian schools, and stood among the protesters in Tahrir Square in 2011.
Esraa Abdel Fattah, "the Facebook girl who started Egypt's revolution"
"The revolution is people demanding freedom, bread, justice, and dignity. People will keep demanding them."
Activist Esraa Abdel-Fattah is known for helping ignite the Egyptian revolution in 2011. She was also nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. She co-founded the 6 April Movement and blames the media for portraying the uprising as a "conspiracy that undermined the stability of Egypt". 6 years after the revolution, Abdel-Fattah like many other activists is shunned or even insulted by Egyptians. Even though she is still active on social media, she now believes, "the political climate is not conducive to practicing politics... What is happening now is the resurrection of the Mubarak regime."